The Joshua Tree is the largest of the yucca family of plants and is native to California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Also known as the Yucca Palm, Tree Yucca and Palm Tree Yucca, it received its official name of Joshua Tree when a group of Mormon settlers noticed the tree’s unique shape and it reminded them of Joshua leading them to the promised land another story is that it also reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
Joshua Trees grow fairly quickly, an average of 3 inches per year in the first 10 years of their life. Unlike a normal tree species, the Joshua Tree doesn’t have growth rings, so it is difficult to tell the age of these beautiful specimens. Some may reach the height of 40 feet and live for thousands of years.
Joshua Trees require the right amount of rain at the right time to bloom in the spring, as well as a winter freeze. However, if all the conditions are right, the tree produces creamy white to green flowers The flowers are pollinated by Yucca Moths that fertilize the flowers and cause the fruit to grow. No other animal visiting the blooms transfers the pollen from one flower to another. In fact, the female Yucca Moth has evolved special organs to collect and distribute the pollen onto the surface of the flower. She lays her eggs in the flowers, and when the larvae hatch, they feed on the yucca seeds.
After a flower is pollinated, a roughly oval fruit about 4 inches long develops. It is filled with fleshy fibers and plenty of flat seeds. When the fruit dries it drops to the ground and the seeds scatter. If conditions are right, perhaps one seed will germinate. Oddly enough, some populations of Joshua Tree reproduce from rhizomes underground from which new stems grow.
Ranchers and miners who were contemporary with the Mormon immigrants took advantage of the Joshua tree, using the trunks and branches as fencing and for fuel for ore-processing steam engines. Today, the Joshua Tree is mostly a protected species in these states. While you can see Joshua Trees is Arizona, Utah and Nevada, the best place to view them is in Joshua Tree National Park in California, nestled in the heart of the Mojave Desert. The park offers self-guided hiking trails, nature walks and talks with rangers, mountain biking, rock climbing, camping, birding, horseback riding and more.
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597