The Joshua Tree of the Mojave Desert

The Joshua tree is a unique looking desert tree, synonymous with the Mojave desert in the south western United States; study the plant profile of the Joshua tree.

The Joshua tree grows in the high elevations of the Mojave desert and is often a lone symbol in an otherwise seemingly barren landscape; it is said that the Joshua tree was named by early Mormon settlers because the shape of the Joshua tree resembled the prophet Joshua.

The Mojave desert is located in the south west of the United States, predominately in the state of California. However, the Mojave desert also crosses the Californian state border into Nevada, Utah and Arizona; the boundaries of the Mojave desert are often defined by the presence of the Joshua tree which is indigenous to the area.

Botanical Classification of the Joshua Tree

The Joshua tree has botanically been classed as part of both the Lilaceae plant family and the Agavaceae plant family; the Joshua tree was originally classed as part of the Lilaceae plant family because of characteristics which identify more with the Lilaceae plant family than that of a tree plant family. However, it is now believed to be part of the Agavaceae plant family, although there are still botanical classifications of the Joshua tree in both the Lilaceae and Agavaceae plant families in literacy references.

Where to Find the Joshua Tree

The Joshua tree is found growing in the Mojave desert between 2,000 and 6,000 feet; a Joshua tree can grow to a height of 32 feet and has a wide trunk girth (sometimes up to 12 feet). Although a lone symbol of the Mojave desert, the Joshua tree does grow in groves, in the dry soil, on sloping hill sides or mesas. A unique feature of the Joshua tree is that it does not have growth rings like other trees.

There are various sub species of the Joshua tree. Yucca brevifolia are found in the southern and western Mojave desert, including Joshua Tree National Park and Saddleback Butte State Park; Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana grow in the eastern Mojave desert, including Mojave National Preserve and close to Dolan Springs in Arizona. Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana are smaller than Yucca brevifolia.

How the Joshua Tree Reproduces

The Joshua tree produces bell-shaped, white flowers in the Spring and a fruit which contains the seeds; the survival and reproduction of the Joshua tree relies on pollination of the flowers by the female yucca moth, Pronuba. The seeds of the Joshua tree provide nourishment for the larvae of the Pronuba moth and both tree and moth species are reliant on the other for survival. The Pronuba moth ensures dispersion of the seeds of pollinated flowers to establish new Joshua tree groves.

Native Indian Use of the Joshua Tree

Native Indians who lived in the Mojave desert used many plants for both survival and food, including the Joshua tree; native Indians used the roots of the Joshua tree for basket work and for dyes, the branches to make quail (a bird species of the Mojave desert) traps and the fiber for nets and sandals.

The Symbol of the Desert – the Joshua Tree

The Joshua tree is now a iconic symbol of the desert south west; this strange looking tree has many unique features, making botanical classification of it complex. The Joshua tree was a resource for the survival of native Indians living in the desert and today the continued survival of the Joshua tree itself depends on a unique moth species.

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