A Tale of Two Joshua Trees

Most Joshua trees feature a variety of contorted branches, but under unique conditions the trees can grow ramrod straight. Kurt Repanshek photos.

All trees are not created equal. While that statement can be proved in any forest, in Joshua Tree National Park the park's namesake trees really define that statement.

Joshua trees themselves are contortionists, their branches bending and curving this way and that. So when you come upon one that is ramrod straight, well, it stands out.

During my trip to the park earlier this year I was able to find time to cruise the Park Boulevard, both from Joshua Tree to Twentynine Palms one day and from Twentynine Palms to Josha Tree the next.

And while the park's boulder fields were certainly impressive and inviting for bouldering, the Joshua trees in the photos accompanying these story immediately grabbed my attention. Why, I wondered, was the one tree so straight? Was it some sort of antennae in disguise? Fortunately, the park staff figured this question would come up frequently, and so explained what was going on in the park newspaper:

Like all desert blooms, Joshua trees depend on just the perfect conditions: well-timed rains, and for the Joshua tree, a crisp winter freeze. Researchers believe that below freezing temperatures may damage the growing end of a branch and stimulate flowering, followed by branching. You may notice some Joshua trees grow like straight stalks; these trees have never bloomed -- which is why they are branchless!

If that indeed is the case, then the tree in the bottom photo has endured more than a few freezes!

Comments

Nice article. It's hard to wander through Joshua trees and not wonder about their personalities.

Joshua Tree is one of our favorite places to camp, picnic, and play. Our three kids can spend days just scrambling around on rocks. For anyone with a high-clearance 4wd and a sense of adventure, I recommend driving from Dillon Road in Indio up through Berdoo Canyon to the park. We went just yesterday and Berdoo Canyon and adjoining Geology Tour Road were exploding with wildflowers!

Somehow that explination does not make sense to me?? If the two trees were in different locations i could see it. How do you explain the two trees within 30ft of each other -- one freezing but the other not??