The slow-growing Joshua tree, which graces much of the Mohave desert ecosystem, is probably the most famous resident of the Mt Charleston area. Named by Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-1800s, the tree’s unusual shape reminded them of the Bible story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
Ranchers and miners who were contemporary with the Mormon immigrants used the trunks and branches as fencing and for fuel for ore-processing steam engines. They referred to these fallen or collapsed Joshua trees as tevis stumps.
Joshua trees are spiny, tree-like plants that are native to the Mojave Desert. Although they look somewhat like palm trees, they are actually Yuccas, members of the asparagus family and close relatives of Agave, the plant used to make tequila.
Joshua trees are fast growers for the desert; new seedlings may grow at an average rate of 3.0 inches per year in their first 10 years, then only about 1.5 inches per year. The trunk consists of thousands of small fibers and lacks annual growth rings, making determining the tree’s age difficult. This tree has a top-heavy branch system, but also what has been described as a “deep and extensive” root system, with roots reaching down to 36 ft. If it survives the rigors of the desert, it can live for hundreds of years; some specimens survive a thousand years. The tallest trees reach about 49 ft. New plants can grow from seed, but in some populations, new stems grow from underground rhizomes that spread out around the parent tree.