"we turn away to face the cold, enduring chill as the day begs the night for mercy love. the sun so bright it leaves no shadows, only scars carved into stone on the face of earth. the moon is up and over one tree hill we see the sun go down in your eyes. you run like river, on like a sea. you run like a river runs to the sea. and in the world a heart of darkness, a fire zone where poets speak their heart, then bleed for it. jara sang, his song a weapon in the hands of love. you know his blood still cries from the ground...it runs like a river runs to the sea it runs like a river to the sea...i don't believe in painted roses or bleeding hearts, while bullets rape the night of the merciful. i'll see you again, when the stars fall from the sky and the moon has turned red over one tree hill...we run like a river, run to the sea. we run like a river to the sea...and when it's raining, raining hard, that's when the rain will break my heart. raining, raining in the heart, raining in your heart, raining, raining to your heart, raining, raining, raining, raining to your heart. raining, raining in your heart, raining in your heart to the sea, oh great ocean, oh great sea. run to the ocean. run to the sea" ― u2, one tree hill
yucca brevifolia is a plant species belonging to the genus yucca. the joshua tree has barely any leaves, just a few balls on the edges, but it is tree-like in habit, which is reflected in its common names: joshua tree, yucca palm, tree yucca, and palm tree yucca.
"surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a dr. seuss book, you might begin to question your map. where are we anyway? in wonder, the traveler pulls over for a snapshot of this prickly oddity; the naturalist reaches for a botanical guide to explain this vegetative spectacle; and the rock climber shouts “yowch!” when poked by dagger-like spines on the way to the 5.10 climbing route....you may be at ease with pine or hardwood, or find shade under the domesticated trees in your city park, but in the high desert, joshua is our tree. it is an important part of the mojave desert ecosystem, providing habitat for numerous birds, mammals, insects, and lizards. joshua tree forests tell a story of survival, resilience, and beauty borne through perseverance. they are the silhouette that reminds those of us who live here that we are home. like the lorax we speak for the trees, but often the trees speak to us" ― jane rodgers, vegetation specialist
this monocotyledonous tree is native to the arid southwestern united states, specifically california, arizona, utah, nevada, and to northwestern mexico...it is confined mostly to the mojave desert between 400 and 1,800 m (1,300 and 5,900 ft) elevation, especially right around 1300 m (4200 ft)...it thrives in the open grasslands of queen valley and lost horse valley in joshua tree national park. a dense joshua tree forest also exists on the cima dome (cima, california) in the mojave national preserve; as well as along u.s. 93 between the towns of wickenburg and wikieup, and designated as the joshua tree parkway of arizona. the joshua tree appears most often in the higher elevations of the mojave desert. and it rarely appears in death valley.
the joshua tree is also called izote de desierto (spanish, "desert dagger"). it was first formally described in the botanical literature as yucca brevifolia by george engelmann in 1871 as part of the geological exploration of the 100th meridian (or "wheeler survey").
the name "joshua tree" is commonly said to have been given by a group of mormon settlers crossing the mojave desert in the mid-19th century: the tree's role in guiding them through the desert combined with its unique shape reminded them of a biblical story in which joshua keeps his hands reached out for an extended period of time to guide the israelites in their conquest of canaan (joshua 8:18–26). further, the shaggy leaves may have provided the appearance of a beard. however, no direct or contemporary attestation of this origin exists, and the name joshua tree is not recorded until after mormon contact; moreover, the physical appearance of the joshua tree more closely resembles a similar story told of moses.
ranchers and miners who were contemporary with the mormon immigrants used the trunks and branches as fencing and for fuel for ore-processing steam engines. they referred to the fallen or collapsed joshua trees as tevis stumps.
joshua trees are fast growers for the desert; new seedlings may grow at an average rate of 7.6 cm (3.0 in) per year in their first 10 years, then only about 3.8 cm (1.5 in) per year. the trunk consists of thousands of small fibers and lacks annual growth rings, making determining the tree's age difficult. this tree has a top-heavy branch system, but also what has been described as a "deep and extensive" root system, with roots reaching down to 11 m (36 ft). if it survives the rigors of the desert, it can live for hundreds of years; some specimens survive a thousand years. the tallest trees reach about 15 m (49 ft). new plants can grow from seed, but in some populations, new stems grow from underground rhizomes that spread out around the parent tree.
the evergreen leaves are dark green, linear, bayonet-shaped, 15–35 cm long and 7–15 mm broad at the base, tapering to a sharp point; they are borne in a dense spiral arrangement at the apex of the stems. the leaf margins are white and serrated.
flowers typically appear from february to late april, in panicles 30–55 cm tall and 30–38 cm broad, the individual flowers erect, 4–7 cm tall, with six creamy white to green tepals. the tepals are lanceolate and are fused to the middle. the fused pistils are 3 cm tall and the stigma cavity is surrounded by lobes. the semi-fleshy fruit that is produced is green-brown, elliptical, and contains many flat seeds. joshua trees usually do not branch until after they bloom (though branching may also occur if the growing tip is destroyed by the yucca-boring weevil), and they do not bloom every year. like most desert plants, their blooming depends on rainfall at the proper time. they also need a winter freeze before they bloom.
once they bloom, the flowers are pollinated by the yucca moth (tegeticula synthetica), which spreads pollen while laying eggs inside the flower. the larvae feed on the seeds, but enough seeds remain to reproduce. the joshua tree is also able to actively abort ovaries in which too many eggs have been laid.
joshua trees are one of the species predicted to have their range reduced and shifted by climate change. concern remains that they will be eliminated from joshua tree national park, with ecological research suggesting a high probability that their populations will be reduced by 90% of their current range by the end of the 21st century, thus fundamentally transforming the ecosystem of the park. also, concern exists about the ability of the species to migrate to favorable climates due to the extinction of the giant shasta ground sloth (nothrotheriops shastensis) 13,000 years ago; ground sloth dung has been found to contain joshua tree leaves, fruits, and seeds, suggesting that the sloths might have been key to the trees' dispersal...
cahuilla native americans, who have lived in the southwestern united states for generations, identify this plant as a valuable resource and call it hunuvat chiy’a or humwichawa. their ancestors used the leaves of yucca brevifolia to weave sandals and baskets, in addition to harvesting the seeds and flower buds for meals. native americans also used the reddish roots to make dye. yucca tree roots have saponin glycosides...
and many birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects depend on the joshua tree for food and shelter. keep your eyes open for the yellow and black flash of a scott’s oriole busy making a nest in a yucca’s branches. at the base of rocks you may find a wood rat nest built with spiny yucca leaves for protection. as evening falls, the desert night lizard begins poking around under the log of a fallen joshua tree in search of tasty insects...
"you think you are alive
because you breathe air?
shame on you,
that you are alive in such a limited way.
don't be without love,
so you won't feel dead.
die in love
and stay alive forever" ― jalaluddin rumi, in the arms of the beloved
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