the joshua tree

Did You Know?

Yucca brevifolia

Joshua TreeDid you know that cabbage tree was one of the many names given the Joshua tree by early travelers? Or that in a journal entry made by Jedediah Smith on his epic pioneer march across the Mojave Desert in 1821, he named it the dirk pear tree because in size and shape it resembles the pear tree but with leaves like the blade of a dirk. I’m kind of glad that neither one of those names stuck.

In the late 1880’s the Atlantic and Pacific Fiber Company of London, England, harvested Joshua trees for the production of paper pulp — a scheme that failed but not before destroying thousands of acres of Joshua-tree woodland.

In my experience, not many visitors to Joshua Tree National Park realize they have Mrs. Minerva Hamilton Hoyt to thank for her tireless work during the 1930s that led to the preservation of hundreds, if not thousands, of Joshua trees and the creation of Joshua Tree National Park itself. Fewer still are aware that in August, 2012 the U.S. Board of Geographic Names (BGN) voted to name a peak within Joshua Tree National Park, Mount Minerva Hoyt. The previously unnamed 5,405 foot mountain is located in the west central portion of Joshua Tree not far from the park’s highest summit, Quail Mountain.

The Yucca brevifolia is so closely associated with the Mojave Desert that scientists often use its distribution to delineate the boundaries of that desert.

In the late 1940s, caves were discovered in eastern Nevada containing the preserved dung of Nothrotherium, an extinct ground sloth that roamed the Southwest as late as 15,000 years ago. Analysis of dung found in Gyssum Cave revealed that a major constituent of the ground sloth’s diet was the Joshua tree (however, evidence provided by Lee W. Lenz in 2001 suggests that the importance of Joshua tree in giant ground sloth diets has been exaggerated.). The caves are located far to the east of the present limit of Joshua tree growth, so apparently the Joshua tree, and by inference the Mojave Desert, occupied a larger area in the past.

2 thoughts on “the joshua tree”

    • Thanks Valerie. When I was running around out there in my 20’s I couldn’t have cared less about that stuff, but as I’ve gotten older it’s become more interesting to me.


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