The Dissident Tree

Written by Kirsten Toft, ESLLC 2015-2016

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Joshua trees are some of the most unique trees in the world. If you don’t know what they are, you’re not alone. Not many know what a Joshua tree is or looks like since they only grow in one specificĀ part of the world: the Mojave Desert (mainly in part of Southern California, but also part of Arizona and part of Nevada).

They almost don’t even seem like real trees with their strange twisted, fuzzy branches, spiky leaves, and gangly appearance. It’s almost as if Dr. Seuss brought them into the world. One could even argue that they aren’t real trees because they do not produce an annual tree ring. They grow really slowly as well taking 50-60 years to mature, and can live to be over 500 years old; the largest one was estimated to be over 1000 years old! And when branches grow, it seems like each one has a mind of its own since they can grow at an angle, horizontally, or down towards the ground while twisting in any way they please. It’s like Joshua trees are the hipsters of tree culture; they all want to look different from others and do their own thing.

On the other hand, Joshua trees can’t always do their own thing since they live symbiotically with the yucca moth. Without the yucca moth, these strange trees would cease to exist because they rely on these eerie insects to pollinate them. Of course the moths also benefit from the trees by laying eggs within its flowers and when the larvae hatch they feed off the seeds of the flower.

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Joshua trees and yucca moths are also creatures of the night. The leaves actually remain dormant during the day, and save their respiration cycle (exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen) for the late-night hours when the air is cooler, and moisture can be conserved. It is also at night when the moth pollinates the flowers. A number of observers have noted that the Joshua Tree flowers, which never appear fully open, reveal themselves more to the night, as well as releasing their fragrance into the night air. Joshua Tree and moth are in their full glory in a moonlit desert night, as the tree’s white flowers, and the moth’s albino body glow in the eerie luminescence of reflected moonlight.

 

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