Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A botanical surprise

with 23 comments


I got close to a substantial Joshua tree a few miles north of Barstow, California, on October 25. Despite the common designation of “tree” based on the presence of bark and a sturdy trunk, the scientific name Yucca brevifolia tells us that the plant is actually a yucca. Surprise. A closer look at a cluster of Joshua tree leaves clearly shows their yucca-ness.


Click to enlarge.

Yuccas in central Texas are a lot smaller than Joshua trees, but west Texas has some closer in stature to California’s giants.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2017 at 5:01 AM

23 Responses

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  1. I do love a botanical surprise, and the yucca-ness of this tree is just fun. Seuss would be delighted with it!


    January 6, 2017 at 7:24 AM

    • They say that seeing is believing. That’s true, except when it isn’t!

      We were driving along that unpaved road because I wanted to follow a scenic loop I’d read about in my guidebook. A local guy, however, told us that recent rain had made the narrow road tricky to navigate, so I decided it was prudent not to take the risk.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2017 at 7:54 AM

  2. Yes indeed, Joshua trees are actually giant yucca trees with some amazing shape. I did enjoy my visit to that park. Plus there are also some amazing geological rock formation around the park.

    Dr. Y.

    January 6, 2017 at 7:32 AM

  3. Wow – it’s Yucca’s cousin?! Thanks for that info and for the photos.

    My neighbor Francisca summoned me to breakfast this morning (workers are here) and she served scrambed eggs and griddled yucca. (I am officially stuffed and sleepy, thanks to that hearty breakfast!)

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    January 6, 2017 at 9:21 AM

    • Glad to hear you’re happily, officially, sleepily, and breakfastly stuffed. All the species in the genus Yucca could be thought of as botanical cousins, but you have to be careful because the Spanish word yuca which designates a root that people in Latin America eat (as I learned to do in Honduras) does not refer to a plant in the genus Yucca. Common English names for yuca are cassava and manioc:


      The presence of the extra c in Yucca makes all the difference.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2017 at 10:52 AM

      • you are so right – yes, thank you for that clarification!!! that tuber yuca has a marijuana-like leaf… in costa rica, the Ticos prepare the flowers of that ‘other yucca’ during Semana Santa… first poaching them and then adding the drained white flowers to scrambled eggs with onions and peppers….

  4. I used to read the Weather Underground blog of a woman who lived in the high desert somewhere NE of Yucca Valley. She posted great photos of Joshua trees — especially in snow — but I never realized that the trees actually are yuccas. They’re similar to some of some of the big trees you saw in New Zealand: a weird combination of overpowering and cute.


    January 6, 2017 at 5:04 PM

    • That’s an excellent parallel: ferns in New Zealand and yuccas in California that both look like trees. Your phrase “overpowering and cute” is unique.

      We spent a night in Redlands, and the next morning on our way to the north entrance to Joshua Tree National Park we passed through Yucca Valley. Joshua trees are found not only in that area but also in southern Nevada (we saw some on the western fringes of Las Vegas) and western Arizona.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2017 at 7:05 PM

  5. We first saw these fanatastically weird plants in Joshua Tree National Park last year. They definitely look like something straight out of Dr. Seuss’s imagination. This one looks particularly giant.

    Oleksandra Budna

    January 6, 2017 at 9:57 PM

    • You beat me to Joshua Tree National Park by a little bit but I’m glad we both got there. Where Dr. Seuss wielded his imagination, Dr. Steve wields his camera.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2017 at 11:24 PM

  6. […] addition to making portraits of a few Joshua trees a bit north of Barstow, California, on October 25 of last year, I took pictures there of the pastel […]

  7. Cool looking tree and I am sure yucca-ness is often used as a word to describe them 🙂


    January 7, 2017 at 9:57 AM

  8. That is some yucca Steve! 😃


    January 9, 2017 at 7:06 PM

    • It sure is, Julie. I hope you’ll get a chance to see some in their native habitat one of these days.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2017 at 7:09 PM

      • Me too Steve .. of course you know I will have to drop in and say hi 😃


        January 9, 2017 at 11:40 PM

        • It’s a long way from southern California to central Texas, but I hope you’ll make it to both. We’d be happy to see you in Austin.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 10, 2017 at 7:41 AM

  9. […] via A botanical surprise — Portraits of Wildflowers […]

  10. […] The park and the Mojave Desert welcomed us four years ago today, though actually we’d seen our first Joshua trees two weeks earlier in Nevada, and then in Barstow. […]

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