Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Joshua Tree National Park revisited

with 33 comments

On this date five years ago we spent much of the day at
Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California.

As tall as some of these “trees” grow, they’re actually members of the yucca family, Yucca brevifolia.

Not all Joshua trees remain erect:

In some places a mountainous wall of boulders dwarfed the Joshua trees.

According to Wikipedia, “The name ‘Joshua tree’ is commonly said to have been given by a group of Mormon settlers crossing the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century: The tree’s role in guiding them through the desert combined with its unique shape reminded them of a biblical story in which Joshua keeps his hands reached out for an extended period of time to enable the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan (Joshua 8:18–26). Further, the shaggy leaves may have provided the appearance of a beard. However, no direct or contemporary attestation of this origin exists, and the name Joshua tree is not recorded until after Mormon contact; moreover, the physical appearance of the Joshua tree more closely resembles a similar story told of Moses.”

The same article lists a whopping 14 scientific names synonymous with Yucca brevifolia. That raises a question I don’t know the answer to: which plant has had the most scientific names?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 5, 2021 at 4:39 AM

33 Responses

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  1. You mean, the plant with the longest list of synonyms?

    I passed by this desert on the way to another to collect insects. Your photos of it make me feel that I’m missing out on something important. 😉

    Alessandra Chaves

    November 5, 2021 at 9:07 AM

  2. The legend of the origin of the word Joshua tree is beautiful even it is not based on facts.

    Peter Klopp

    November 5, 2021 at 9:30 AM

    • Returning to the world of facts, we can say that the name Joshua comes from Hebrew יהושע‎ (Yehoshua), which meant ‘God is salvation.’ A shorter version of the name, יֵשׁוּעַ (Yeshua), passed through Greek and Latin to become Jesus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2021 at 10:14 AM

  3. The one that is bent over reminded me of that plant in the old Adams Family T.V. series. It’s really a park that I haven’t spent nearly enough time in with my camera.


    November 5, 2021 at 10:03 AM

    • You’re fortunate to be relatively close to Joshua Tree, at least compared with how far it is from Austin. Maybe these pictures will gin up your interest in returning, particularly with pictures in mind.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2021 at 10:24 AM

  4. Thanks to the striking landscapes of considerable variety (2 different desert ecosystems, to begin), and its sometimes otherworldly aspect, Joshua Tree is one of those places that makes one feel they’ve found a special place that speaks only to them. Yet, in 2020, the place had 2.4 million visitors. Thanks for another look at a direly threatened, memorable world.

    Brad Nixon

    November 5, 2021 at 10:12 AM

    • You’re welcome. Otherworldly is a good word for it. I can confirm that on the day we were there, so were a lot of other people. I asked about it and was told that not till November do things cool down enough for a lot of people to want to go there. In particular I remember quite a few climbers with their equipment; that made me wonder about damage to the formations. Zion, which we’d been to a couple of weeks earlier on the trip, had swarmed with even more visitors. People have described some of these places as “getting loved to death.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2021 at 10:31 AM

      • That’s certainly a risk in more or less all the national parks, and plenty of other popular outdoor venues. We all have to tread as lightly as possible, as you know well. The climbers? I’ve thought about that. Not certain about what restrictions apply, if any.

        Brad Nixon

        November 5, 2021 at 12:13 PM

        • I also don’t know about the climbing restrictions. The people I saw seemed to be in organized groups, so apparently they were within the regulations.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 5, 2021 at 3:17 PM

  5. This is still on my bucket list, Steve. I had planned to see it this year on our California trip, but then we decided to drive to San Jose in just 3 days because with sightseeing on the way up the trip would have been too long, and on our way back we took a more northerly route. But, as they say in Germany, “Aufgeschoben ist nicht aufgehoben.” 😉
    Have a great weekend,
    P.S.: I didn’t offer a translation because I know you’ll look up that German idiomatic expression yourself anyway. 😉


    November 5, 2021 at 10:17 AM

    • You’re right. I looked it up and found it means “Postponed isn’t cancelled.” The root verb schoben is a cognate of English shove, and hoben (or heben) of English heave.

      California offers so many scenic attractions that even after several long trips much would remain. You have many incentives to return, as do we (who hadn’t been to California in the 20 years before this last visit).

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2021 at 10:43 AM

  6. A video of one Joshua Tree fading while another appears would be quite an amazing collection of non repeating shapes and sizes.

    Steve Gingold

    November 6, 2021 at 4:28 AM

  7. The last photo is especially interesting. It reminds me of something between a Gothic cathedral (gargoyles) and a Hindu temple (gods): a whole collection of almost-human figures in a single wall. It looks as though the plant in the third photo is beginning to grow vertically again. It would be terrific if it would grow into an ‘s’ curve.


    November 6, 2021 at 9:28 PM

  8. I didn’t realize Joshua trees were in the yucca family, but looking at them it makes perfect sense. I’ve never been to this location but it looks like one well worth revisiting, even if only virtually.

    Todd Henson

    November 7, 2021 at 11:24 AM

    • The Southwest is so scenic that any visit there provides material for nature photographs. Not till five years ago did I finally make it to Joshua Tree and Zion and Valley of Fire and other great sites in that region. Many other places there still await a visit. I hope you’ll manage to hit some of them too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2021 at 11:45 AM

  9. Deserts grow the most remarkable plants. I find the last photo with the rock face behind the two Joshua trees very striking. As if separate rocks had been stacked next to and atop one another.


    November 7, 2021 at 9:16 PM

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