Joshua Trees Reach Record Bloom in the West: Desert Plants Flower

First Posted: Apr 12, 2013 01:25 PM EDT

The Joshua trees in the western United States are experiencing an unprecedented bloom this year. These spindly trees, which range from the Joshua Tree National Park in California all the way to Arizona, have been producing abundant cream-colored flowers on the tips of their branches.

The Joshua tree looks like something you'd see out of one of Dr. Seuss's works. It's twisted and spikey, and warped into strange shapes. The tree itself is actually a member of the Agave family and like the California fan palm, it's a monocot; this means that it's in the same subgroup of flowering plants that includes grasses and orchids. It possesses tough leaves that were once worked into baskets and sandals by Native Americans, as well as seeds that can be roasted and eaten. The tree, at least in myth, first received its name from pioneers who were reminded of the biblical figure, Joshua. The outstretched branches of the tree reminded the settlers of a man outstretching his own limbs in supplication.

Although these trees usually bloom in spring, the excess amount of blooming is unusual for the area. Researchers believe that the phenomenon could be linked to emerging climate changes in the region. More specifically, a drought has ravaged the area where these trees are located. This could have triggered a stronger reproductive effort as a kind of collective survival mechanism.

"It appears, and this is my working hypothesis based on the evidence I have so far, that it's the stress of two years of consecutive drought that has resulted in a spectacular Joshua tree bloom," said desert ecologist Jim Cornett in an interview with USA Today.

Unfortunately, the numbers of these trees are declining. Due to drought conditions, experts have seen very few new Joshua trees emerge while older trees continue to die off. It's possible that this latest bloom is a mass effort by the trees to reproduce and take advantage of limited conditions. Currently, researchers are monitoring the trees and their reproduction.

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