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Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)
Yuccas Around Las Vegas, Vegetation Around Las Vegas
Western Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia brevifolia)
Western Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia brevifolia)
Relatively tall in stature, first branch far from the ground

Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) are the signature species of the Mojave Desert: if you see Joshua trees, you are in the Mojave Desert -- no questions asked. Joshua trees are a major component of the "lower" Upper Sonoran (Mojave Desert Scrub) life zone, and they extend into the "upper" Upper Sonoran (Pinyon-Juniper Woodland) life zone.

Recent research has shown that there are two kinds of Joshua Trees, described as subspecies at this point, but some argue for two separate species. In the southern and western Mojave Desert, Western Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia brevifolia) grow tall and straight, with long leaves. In the eastern portion of the Mojave Desert, Eastern Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana) grow shorter with more branches (sometimes shrub-like), and the leaves are shorter. There are many other differences between the two subspecies: including flower shape, fruit shape, and pollinators.

Western Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia brevifolia)
Western Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia brevifolia)
Long leaves

Family: Agave (Agavaceae).

Other Names: tree yucca, joshua tree yucca. Western Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia brevifolia). Eastern Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana).

Plant Form: Upright, many branched tree sparsely scattered across the landscape.

Height: usually 15 to 20 feet, maximum to 30 feet.

Trunk: generally 12-15 inches diameter, to 3 feet; brown, rough, and furrowed. Young trunks covered with dead leaves.

Leaves: long (usually 8-10 inches, to 14 inches) and narrow, straight, pointed tip, toothed margins, dark green. Live leaves clustered at the ends of branches in dense rosettes; dead leaves stay attached for years and cover the trunks.

Eastern Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana)
Eastern Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana)
Relatively short in stature, branch close to the ground

Flowers: greenish-white, waxy, bell shaped, to 3.5 inches long. Flowers clustered on stalks (to 1.5-feet long) at the branch tips. Blooms in the spring.

Seeds: Occur in green seedpods about 1.5 inches wide and 4 inches long.

Elevation: 2,000 to 3,500 ft

Comments: Joshua trees got their common name from the Mormon settlers who likened the tree to the biblical prophet Joshua with his arms uplifted towards the sky in prayer.

Joshua trees can live to 300 years.

Eastern Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana)
Eastern Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana)
Short leaves

Many species of wildlife use Joshua trees. In places where Joshua trees are the only "trees" around, woodpeckers drill nest holes into the trunks, holes that are then used by other nesting birds in later years. Desert Night Lizards depend entirely on Joshua trees and other yuccas, living only under the bark and in the dead trunks of these species. Desert Woodrats often nest in the hollow trunks of dead Joshua trees.

During drought and other times of stress, Desert Woodrats sometimes chew off the leaves of Joshua Trees. Sometimes the cut leaves are left on the ground, other times they seem to have been chewed or eaten, and sometimes they are used to armor the Woodrat's nest.

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate. Names generally follow the USDA database.
© 2015 Jim Boone; Last updated 150409

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