Monday, January 12, 2009

Desert Destination: The Mojave Desert

The Great Basin Desert where I live now is quite cold in winter, being a high desert with a thin atmosphere. So it was time to head south to the Mojave Desert, which has warmer weather.The Mojave desert covers the southern part of California and Nevada, the northwestern part of Arizona, and a little of Utah. 

Heading down the highway, I saw the pinyon and juniper trees and sagebrush fade away and a new character appear...

A Joshua tree! The Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) is the signature plant of the Mojave desert. It pretty much only grows in this desert, and its outlandish character makes it really easy to spot. Whenever I see one, I wonder if Dr. Seuss found inspiration in these trees.

Joshua trees are slow growers, stretching about three inches higher a year for the first ten years, and then only an inch and a half a year thereafter. Joshua trees can live hundreds of years, with a few even surpassing their thousandth birthday. They don't have growth rings, so it can be really difficult to age a Joshua tree. The tallest ones reach about 45 feet high.

Joshua trees can grow from seeds or underground rhizomes that spread from nearby neighbors. They apparently can have quite an extensive root network. The leaves of Joshua trees are pointy, so they don't exactly encourage caressing. From February to April, white flowers appear and are pollinated by the yucca moth.

As the trees grow older, they can have many branches that reach out and take even crazier forms. The name Joshua tree was given by Mormon settlers traveling across the Mojave desert who were reminded of a biblical story of Joshua reaching his arms up to the heavens in prayer.

The valley bottom is covered in fog, making these Joshua trees appear even more supernatural. Joshua trees do not grow everywhere in the Mojave Desert; for example, they were not on the valley bottom. Although they can survive with scarce precipitation and hot temperatures, even they have their limits.  

3 comments:

The Incredible Woody said...

I have always loved Joshua Trees. Thanks for taking me along!!

Caroline said...

I knew nothing about the Joshua tree until today! Thank you. And, again, loved the photos...

Cheers!

~C

Desert Survivor said...

Here's an interesting blog post that goes into more detail about Joshua trees:
http://watchingtheworldwakeup.blogspot.com/2008/05/monocot-week-part-4-yucca-trees.html

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