Over the last three years, scientists have raised alarm bells about Joshua trees going extinct. These plants have been part of the Mojave Desert landscape for thousands of years.
Instantly recognizable and strangely beautiful, they’re a timeless symbol of the California wilderness.
So how the heck did they become endangered?
Let’s find out!
What Is Special About Endangered Joshua Trees?
Joshua trees are a truly unique plant species native to the Mojave desert. Their name is somewhat misleading: they aren’t really trees at all! These towering succulents are actually yuccas, closely related to the agaves used to make tequila.
The scientific name is Yucca brevifola. But their common name came from Mormon settlers who came to California in the 19th century. These settlers called them Joshua trees because they felt guided and protected by their distinct branches.
Their thick trunks are usually one to three feet in diameter. Small white flowers and pointy leaves adorn the ends of the branches. Although they average about 40 feet tall, they can grow to a maximum height of 70 feet.
These giant yuccas play a critical role in their environment. They have a symbiotic relationship with yucca moths, which lay their eggs inside the flowers after pollinating them. These plants also provide food, shelter, and materials for other species like birds, lizards, and humans.
Does the Joshua Tree Have Spiritual Symbolism?
There’s a long history of spirituality associated with Joshua trees. Some New Age practitioners believe these plants have healing properties. Many Native American tribes also thought the yuccas were powerful tools.
Many New Age practitioners believe Joshua trees are signs of vortexes or vortices. In spiritual terms, these places have magnified or increased energy. Because of this intensity, these areas are used for meditation purposes.
Some find significance in these plants’ evergreen qualities. Although they bloom at specific times of the year, they never drop their leaves. Others find meaning in the abundant flowers and fruits they produce.
More recently, the yucca has become significant to some Christians. Many admire its ability to grow in desert conditions. It’s become symbolic of overcoming adversity.
How Do We Know the Joshua Trees Are Endangered Species?
The species is one of North America’s most beautiful, unique plants. But in recent years, Joshua trees have become endangered and may go extinct without protection.
According to the Endangered Species Act, an endangered species is “any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” This can happen to any animal or plant due to shifts in genetics or habitat. Unfortunately, human influence and climate change have damaged many wild spaces.
Scientists use four categories: threatened, endangered, critically endangered, and extinct. They identify them by observing downward trends in population and habitat. Critically endangered species are at risk of disappearing altogether.
Unfortunately, Joshua trees could go extinct. Scientists believe climate change will make the Mojave Desert unsuitable for the yucca by 2100. Urban expansion in California and Nevada contributes to this habitat loss as well. The plant was first given temporary protections in 2020.
What Is Being Done to Protect the Joshua Tree?
Joshua trees may be endangered, but those who love them won’t let them go extinct without a fight. Many organizations are working to protect this endangered yucca.
One organization is the Center for Biological Diversity, headed by Brendan Cummings. The lawyer has spearheaded many conservation efforts over the years. Leaders of the Mojave Desert Land Trust have joined in the fight as well. Researchers continue to survey the habitat to identify threats and develop solutions.
In June 2022, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife found insufficient evidence to give Joshua trees endangered status. Scientists, activists, and tribal groups disagree with their findings and continue to call for protection. The commission responsible for approving these protections will meet again in February 2022.
Where Can You See Endangered Joshua Trees?
To see these beautiful wonders for yourself, you’ll need to visit Joshua Tree National Park! The destination is at the intersection of the Colorado and Mojave deserts, where these ethereal plants grow. It’s also a fantastic place for hikers of all levels.
The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is a popular one-mile hiking path offering views of hundreds of Joshua trees. (It also features the Great Burrito, a climbable rock formation!) If driving’s more your speed, you can take a car up to Keys View, a stunning vista overlooking the Coachella Valley. Nature lovers can explore the Cholla Cactus Garden, the home of another beautiful desert species.
To learn more about the park’s history, take a guided tour of the old Keys Ranch homestead. Bird-watching and horseback riding are also available. And foodies can partake in the Love Your Park Hi-Desert Food Tour! This collaboration between several area restaurants offers diners a chance to eat delicious food that benefits the park.
Where Can I Camp at Joshua Tree National Park?
Are you planning to camp amongst the Joshua trees and desert wildlife before they go extinct? There are dozens of great options for RVers in and around the national park.
Let’s look at a couple of the best campsites in this area.
Black Rock Campground
Black Rock Campground is an excellent in-park choice. It’s ADA-compliant and can handle RVs or vehicles with tow trailers up to 30 feet long.
Although they don’t have hookups, there have dump stations and drinking water. Cell reception is available here, a rare perk in this rural park! You’ll also find flush toilets, trash, and recycling.
Black Rock’s fees are $25 per night. The campsite operates year-round, except for national holidays and occasional summer closures. Reservations can be made online at.
If you’re looking for a quiet, primitive spot, you’ll enjoy the Painted Canyon campsite in Mecca, California. This place is open to all motorhomes, but drivers will want to use caution in deep sand. Both RV and tent camping are permitted.
Visitors report some cell service in Painted Canyon despite its remote location. Visitors should plan to provide their own water and pack out their trash. Toilets are available onsite. And pack your furry friends–pets are allowed here!
Camping in Painted Canyon is free, and no reservation is required. It’s a beautiful spot for anyone open to adventure. Check the Bureau of Land Management website for information on closures and advisories.
Protecting Desert Places
Joshua trees are an iconic feature of the California wilderness, and their extinction would leave a huge void. Their strange, magical presence has captivated people for thousands of years. The thought of these beautiful plants going extinct is nothing short of tragic.
But scientists, activists, and indigenous people won’t give up on them without a fight. Every day nature lovers can help too! Supporting national parks and responsible camping are two small acts with significant impacts. These first steps can preserve endangered Joshua trees for future generations.
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