Joshua Tree

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The striking Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) stood out in the desert landscapes of Nevada, Arizona and Utah. In the lower elevation dry areas it is the only plant reaching any sort of height at all. It was named by the Mormons who were reminded of the Biblical story of Joshua raising his arms up to heaven. The Spanish called them the izote de desierto or the desert daggers, referring to the sharp ends of the modified leaves. The 49 species of the genus Yucca belong to the Agave family. The Joshua Tree was made famous to my generation by U2, who as most Europeans, are fascinated by the deserts of the American southwest. The album Joshua Tree (1990) was their take on American music and they took a lot of photos in the desert.

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I loved the openness and lack of people of this part of the American southwest after living in Japan for two years. One can walk a long way before seeing any signs of humanity. We found many nice Joshua tree specimens near the Virgin River Canyon recreation area just over the Arizona border between Nevada and Utah. It was a camping area, but on a scorching (108 F) weekday afternoon, we had the river to ourselves.

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Sadly I was reading that the climate change will reduce 90% of their range. They are already confined to the Mojave desert, and due to the loss of their seed disperser, the Giant Shasta Ground Sloth), they have difficulty in migrating to a more favorable habitat. It would be a shame to lose the iconic Mojave tree.

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