Yucca brevifolia ‘Joshua Tree’ is the California Heritage Plant for September.
This is the famous Yucca of the Mojave desert that can live for a thousand years. Joshua Tree can be grown in the East Bay climate and it makes a wonderful addition to any dry garden or succulent display, but expect greener growth and a shorter lifespan (60 years+/-). The Cahuilla people of the Southwest used leaves of Yucca brevifolia for sandals and baskets, they made food from seeds and buds and named the plant ‘humwichawa’. Spanish settlers called it ‘dagger tree’ and Mormon immigrants gave it the common name it is known by today ‘Joshua Tree’, for the upright habit of growth which they interpreted as ‘hands raised to god’.
Joshua Tree was already in trouble when the Europeans arrived, the giant tree sloths which once so efficiently distributed seed of Yucca brevifolia in their feces had gone extinct 13,000 years earlier when the ancestors of modern native people first arrived across the land bridge from Asia. Spanish and Mormons burned huge numbers of Joshua Trees for fuel and now climate change is making the deserts which they prefer inhospitable to their continued survival.
You can play a part in preserving this heritage plant by growing it yourself! 4″ Pots of Yucca brevifolia are $6.00 at Ploughshares.