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Learn more about climate change impacts to popular national parks. Harrower wanted to know if interspecies relationships played into the story. To find out, she surveyed Joshua tree groves in a range of microclimates, from the low, hot southern park, to the cool slopes in the north.

  1. The Dreamfields (Laser #33)?
  2. Groasis: planting trees in the desert?
  3. Desert tree pictures.

At each site, she collected tree flowers and fruits and counted moth populations with sticky traps. Climate change already seems to have taken a toll on the symbiosis. Trees there no longer bear fruit, and some are beginning to die altogether.

While there were some new trees, they were all clones. The relationship between Joshua trees and yucca moths is particularly special, even in a desert full of surprising relationships. When you disturb them, they just fall to the ground and writhe.

Growing Trees in the Desert, With the Aid of a 'Waterboxx'

But the moths need the trees, too. Without moths, surviving trees will be more like echoes than survivors. There may be a few scattered locations where both moths and trees manage to hang on, says Harrower, but the overall story remains the same. Joshua trees will be gone from the overwhelming majority of the park bearing their name.

Scientists Propose Planting Trees in the Desert to Combat Climate Change

Joshua trees bear more than the weight of symbolism in the park. They create microhabitats by creating shade in the desert.

Young trees germinate nearby. You have a reverberation through the entire ecosystem.


There are other, immediate threats to Joshua trees as well. Invasive grasses have proliferated, and with them, fires. The number of rangers, however, has remained constant. When trees with mature canopies reaching 30 foot or greater like Ficus or Chilean mesquite are planted in tiny front or narrow side yards, the amount of pruning needed to keep the trees a manageable size is overwhelming. Not only is it a tremendous amount of work and expense, but the pruned branches represent green waste which ends up taking space in our landfills. Consider the Mature Size — Be sure to consider the mature height and width of the tree and plant accordingly.

It is often deceiving to see the small trees in their petite 5- or gallon containers at the nurseries. Heat tolerant trees like the Palo Verde often have small leaves, light green or grey leaves, are native to arid climates, and can tolerate intermittent watering. Making a Point — Think about the way your yard is used.


Avoid planting thorny trees near active areas or walkways. Desert Dwellers — Know that many desert trees, such as Palo Verdes, Acacias and Mesquites have a multi-trunk, shrub-like structure by nature. This survival mechanism helps to shade the ground below and conserve moisture. Pruning desert trees into one central trunk or lollipop shapes — so they fit the space — is unnatural, stressful for the plant and often unnecessary. Dare to Cross the Line? Trees spaced too closely together or too near adjacent structures often become bowed or lopsided as they reach for sunlight.

Support Group — You do not need to automatically stake a tree. Try to choose nursery stock that looks stable in the container, so you will not need to stake it once it is in the ground. If the tree cannot stand without a stake, make sure the ties are adjusted regularly so they are not tight on the trunk.