The Joshua Tree

Yucca brevifolia
Information quoted from "The Audubon Society Nature Guide: Deserts"

A picturesque or grotesque, narrow-leaf evergreen tree with short, stout trunk; open, broad crown of many, stout, widely forking, spreading branches; and spiny, daggerlike leaves.  Height: 15-30 feet (4.6-9 m),  Diameter: 1-3 feet (0.3-0.9 m), sometimes larger.


Leaves: evergreen; numerous, clustered and spreading at ends of branches; 8-14 inches (20-36 cm) long, 1/4-1/2 inch (6-12 mm) wide.  Daggerlike, stalkless, stiff, flattish but keeled on our surface, smooth or slightly rough; ending in short, sharp spine.  Blue-green, the yellowish edges with many tine teeth. 

Trunk: small trunks and branches covered with dead, stiff leaves pressed downward; larger trunks brown or gray, rough, corky, deeply furrowed and cracked into plates.

Flowers: 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 inches (3-4 cm) long; bell shaped with 6 greenish yellow, leathery sepals; crowded in upright, much branched clusters 1-1 1/2 feet (0.3-0.5 m) long; with unpleasant odor, mostly in early spring, at irregular intervals.

Fruit: 2 1/2 - 4 inches (6 - 10 cm) long, 2 inch (5 cm) in diameter; eliptical, green to brown, 6-celled, slightly fleshy becoming dry, falling soon after maturity in late spring, but not splitting open; many flat seeds.

Habitat: Dry soils on plains, slopes, and mesas; often in groves.

Range: Mojave Desert of extreme SW, Utah, Nevada, California, and Arizona at 2000 to 6000 feet (610-1829 m),

Comments: Joshua Tree, the largest of the yuccas, is the characteristic tree of the Mojave Desert and has come to symbolize the area. The Mormon pioneers named this species Joshua because it shape mimics a person praying with uplifted arms or gesturing wildly, referring to the Biblical leader, Joshua, pointing the way to a Promised Land. It is abundant at Joshua Tree National Park in southern California and Joshua Forest Parkway in western Arizona.


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