What Makes Them Bloom?

A Joshua tree forest. As you can see, Joshua trees are not fit for climbing, unless you're wearing a full-leather suit.
A Joshua tree forest. As you can see, Joshua trees are not fit for climbing, unless you’re wearing a full-leather suit.

Joshua trees are in mass bloom in the Mojave desert this year. What makes these crazy trees bloom? Your smartass answers are always welcome, and would be as good a guess as anyone’s. But conventional wisdom, and Wikipedia, claim that rainfall and a hard freeze is required.

Joshua trees bloom in late-Winter, with most blooms gone by the first day of Spring.
Joshua trees bloom in late-Winter, with most blooms gone by the first day of Spring.

It seems the wise, Wikipedia-types weren’t around eight years ago. That’s when a drought brought zero rain to our desert over the winter. And yet nearly all the Joshua trees bloomed. During normal years you’ll see a smattering of blooms–a tree here, a tree there, but with most barren of blooms. And some years, hardly no trees bloom at all.

Some blooms take on a dark pink hue.
Some blooms take on a dark pink hue.

However in 2008, botanists were baffled to see almost every Joshua tree in rare, full bloom. And this during one of our driest winters on record. So what caused the mass bloom? Scientists came out from all over to study the phenomenon, but never figured it out. They’re still scratching their heads.

An early bud.
An early bud.
A bud just beginning to open. Looks kind of like an artichoke.
A bud just beginning to open. Looks kind of like an artichoke.
Many blooms are creamy white, without the pink.
Many blooms are creamy white, without the pink.

The Joshua tree got its name from Mormon settlers who thought it resembled the biblical Joshua lifting his arms in the air in praise of God. I think they should be renamed the “Seuss Tree” since they look kind of like trees found in Dr. Seuss books. The botanical name is Yucca brevifolia. This means yucca with short foliage. Joshua trees have short, spiky leaves, as opposed to most yuccas with much longer spikes. Yep, those spikes are technically leaves.

I wonder if Dr. Seuss saw these trees before illustrating his famous books?
I wonder if Dr. Seuss saw these trees before illustrating his famous books?

Joshua trees can live up to a thousand years. They only grow in the Mojave desert of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Some say they also grow in Israel, but this is a myth. The only Joshua that grew in Israel was the biblical Joshua, who never saw a Joshua tree in his life.

This looks a bit like an ice cream cone.
This looks a bit like an ice cream cone.

Today you can find tens of thousands of these trees growing in Joshua Tree National Park, California. But global warming is causing it to depopulate its southern range. Botanists fear that by the end of this century it will no longer be found in its eponymous park.

Looks almost good enough to eat. But the taste is bitter and soapy.
Looks almost good enough to eat. But the taste is bitter and soapy.

The Joshua is a strange, grand, majestic tree to behold. I feel kind of sorry for those who’ll live here a century from now. This desert will look rather bland without them.

Close-up of the flower petals.
Close-up of the flower petals.
Advertisements

9 thoughts on “What Makes Them Bloom?

Myths & fables recounted here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s