What is a Joshua Tree?

Joshua trees can be seen in the Mojave Desert in the United States.

Not really a tree, the Joshua tree got its name because of its tree-like growths. It is a yucca, a distinctly American evergreen shrub. It grows only in the southwestern United States, in the arid soils of the Mojave Desert. Yucca brevifolia, as it is scientifically known, is the largest member of its genus, standing between five and fifteen meters (16.4 ft and 49.2 ft) in height. The Joshua tree has long, straight, dagger-shaped leaves that are about a centimeter (0.39 inches) wide at the base and tapering into sharp spikes at the end. The leaves grow in a spiral pattern at the ends of the stems; dead leaves from previous seasons remain on the stem and accumulate below the new growth. When a winter freeze occurs and the amount of seasonal rain is sufficient, these trees bloom between February and April. Its whitish flowers grow in clusters and give off an unpleasant odor.

Joshua Tree National Park was opened by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.

The Joshua tree reproduces in an exclusive and mutually beneficial arrangement with the female Yucca moth, whose organs are exceptionally capable of collecting and transferring the tree’s pollen. The moth helps the tree reproduce as it completes its own reproductive cycle: it collects pollen when it lays eggs inside a flower’s ovary. As their eggs incubate, the tree’s seeds grow and the moth larvae feed on the seeds when they hatch. The larvae usually leave enough seeds to grow more trees, but the Joshua tree has special features to ensure the Yucca moth’s offspring don’t overeat its welcome: if there are too many moth eggs in an ovary, the tree may abort it. it.

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The whitish flowers of the Joshua tree give off an unpleasant odor.

In addition to growing from seeds, the Joshua tree can grow from the rhizomes of other trees. This type of growth helps the tree survive floods and fires that kill the main tree but leave the root system unharmed. The tree grows very slowly. For the first few years, seedlings may gain two centimeters (0.79 inches) per year, but then they usually only grow one centimeter per year (0.39 inches). The tree trunk is made of fiber and therefore does not have the growth rings that most other trees have. It also has a shallow root system that must support its disproportionately large and heavy size, which makes it difficult to survive in the desert. Despite this, a Joshua tree often lives several hundred years.

It is believed that Mormon settlers named the plant after the biblical prophet Joshua. The shape of the tree’s outstretched branches reminded them of the biblical story in which the prophet Joshua stretches out his hands towards heaven. Joshua Tree National Park gives the tree another important place in American history: Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the park in 1936 to ensure that California’s rapid urban sprawl did not threaten the unique desert ecosystem in which trees are king.

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