Pictures of Joshua Tree National Park, California
I spent an uneventful two weeks in Lost Angeles recently. Amid the teeming throngs, breathing the smoggy air, trapped in hours-long traffic jams, I was reminded that when the Big Quake hits and most of California falls into the ocean, it will be a Good Thing.
On the weekend, though, I visited Joshua Tree National Park. I had only heard of Joshua trees, but did not know what they were. I thought they were some type of pinon pine. No. They are just giant yucca plants (yucca brevifolia), the largest on this planet. It was a little bit of a letdown, because we have billions of yuccas in the jungle. You cannot kill them. Cut them in pieces and throw them on the ground, and they will each sprout a new tree. But yucca brevifolia is interestingly shaped, and they get very large. They cannot propagate without pollination by the female yucca moth (Tegeticula yuccasella) or I would have brought home samples. I brought samples of other things, though. Not from within the National Park, of course. That would be illegal.
Although they can be difficult to date (because their trunks are fibrous and lack the traditional age rings of most trees), some of the Joshua trees are thought to be thousands of years old. The Mormon settlers named them Joshua trees because their twisted branches looked (to them) like the hands of the Biblical prophet Joshua, raised in supplication and prayer to the heavens. Joshua was Moses’ second-in-command, circa 1300 B.C., and led the people of Israel to conquer the land of Canaan after Moses died.
The trees get their twisted shape from damage inflicted by insects and animals. When a branch is nibbled on or otherwise damaged, it tends to grow in a different direction. Branches also turn in a different direction whenever a blossom sprouts from the branch and then dies. The point where the blossom was is the point at which the branch bends.