The yucca brevifolia -- the scientific name for the iconic and beloved Joshua tree, the latter moniker, legend has it, coming from a group of Mormon settlers traversing the Mojave in the 19th century -- grows in one area of the entire world: The American Southwest. Its name not only conjures up the inherent mystery of that large expanse of desert, but also its spirit. If something of such beauty can survive the harrowing climate of the region, anything's possible.
But now, the Joshua tree may be dying out in Joshua National Park.
A team of scientists at UC Riverside has been studying how the ongoing historical drought is affecting the Joshua tree, and early results are not good. Due to the drier than normal climate, the tree's seedlings are shriveling up and dying, rather than implanting into the ground. This does not lead to an encouraging projection:
Scientists predict that the trees will lose 90 percent of their current range in the 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park by the end of the century if the warmer, drier conditions continue. The park has seen 1.71 inches of rain this year. Precipitation there averages about 4 inches per year.
Things are not quite dire enough to have you cancel your summer plans and spend the month out in the desert, though. These trees grow for nearly 200 years, meaning that the big die-offs won't occur for awhile. But if you needed another excuse to help conserve water, well, here it is.