Don’t be a sloth, stop by to see the Joshua trees in bloom and learn their history. Joshua trees need a special moth and freezing winter temperatures to propagate. While the lower desert is beginning to bloom with its flowers rooted in the desert sand, the higher and cooler Mojave Desert is starting to bloom in a most unusual way. You must make a trip to see this, these are the Joshua tree blooms.  The Joshua trees, the sentinels of the Mojave Desert, are just beginning to show their glory.

The blooms look like large artichokes when they begin to flower. After flowering, the remnants produce seed pods that spread throughout the desert.

First Bloom

First Bloom

Though the Joshua trees are found only in the Mojave Desert today, during the Ice Age their reach was much more dramatic.  At that time Joshua trees spread much further east, almost through Arizona, and some say nearly to Texas. The giant ground sloth used to eat the seed pods and spread them up to ten miles from their source.  We know this because Joshua tree seeds have been found in ancient sloth dung. A few sloths fell into deep fumaroles, volcanic gas vents, during the Ice Age only to die horrible deaths, unable to escape their dark, cold traps.  In the last 100 years some of these mummified carcasses have been found and Joshua tree seeds have been identified in their mummified dung.

Estimate of Size of the Joshua Tree, Sloth and a Human (Art by Jeff Drozd)

The Joshua trees’ range today is much smaller than it was during the Ice Age. The solid grey in the illustration below shows today’s range while the hashtag pattern was the estimated range during the Ice Age.

Current And Ice Age Range Of The Joshua Tree

Current and Ice Age Range of the Joshua Tree

After their first artichoke-like phase, Joshua tree blooms turn a creamy color, sometimes with green or purple tinted flowers.

Full Bloom Of The Joshua Tree

Full Bloom of the Joshua Tree

After that, they turn into the seed pods that the sloths used to eat:

Seed Pods Of The Joshua Tree

Seed Pods Of The Joshua Tree

Remember when you see a Joshua tree today, that during the Ice Age, not too long ago, there would have been large beasts feeding on the Joshua tree seed pods.

Here’s another interesting fact, Joshua trees usually don’t branch until after they bloom, so there are a few that look like this:

Tall Joshua Tree

Tall Joshua Tree

Right now is the time to see the blooms. Here are a few photos from this cloudy day today in my yard (3/11/19) Try to visit in the next few weeks to see this desert miracle.

Take It Easy,
Mojave (Jeff)