Saturday, January 15, 2011

What the Heck is a Joshua Tree?

I just came back from a trip to Southern California, where a friend and I spent part of a day hiking and taking in the sights at Joshua Tree National Park. I grew up in California and have seen a lot of the Golden State, but this was my first visit to this particular park.

We entered the park at its southern edge, just off I-10. After driving for miles through typical barren dessert terrain, we began to see, here and there, small specimens of the famous Joshua Trees. They look to me like a cross between a palm and a dracaena.

As we drove further still, we began to see extraordinary rock formations and larger Joshua Trees.

We stopped to hike in the Hidden Valley area amid more stunning rock and mature trees.

Here you see four sizes of Joshua Trees silhouetted against the blue sky and rock.

Of course, Joshua Trees don't grow in Seattle, but plant people like me are curious. I wanted to know more about these trees after our day in the park. So I looked them up. As it happens, they are related to a plant that we see often in Seattle. The flower stalk in the photo below offers a hint.

Joshua Trees are in the Yucca family (Y. brevifolia) and they are related to those spiky plants that we see all over the city (Y. filimentosa) that sport 4-7' tall spikes of creamy white flowers in spring. Strange as it might seem, an echo of the dessert blooms right here in our own front yards.

Related post:

How Do You Say Yucca?