Plants

  • A cluster of cholla cacti with a flowering hedgehog cactus

    Cactus

    15 species of cacti call Joshua Tree home

  • orange wildflowers with desert mountains in the background

    Wildflowers

    Winter showers bring spring flowers

  • Joshua trees with rock formations and a blue sky in the background

    Joshua Trees

    Find out more about our namesake species

  • A group of palm trees with rocky desert mountains in the background

    California Fan Palm

    The only native palm tree in the Western US finds a home at five oases in the park

  • a creosote bush with small leaves and seed balls

    Creosote Bush

    This hardy species is found widespread throughout the park and the desert southwest

  • Red flowers grow atop spindly green stems of an ocotillo against a blue sky

    Ocotillo

    Pronounced “Oh-co-TEE-yo”, this cactus can been seen growing up to 20+ feet tall

  • scaly green lichen on top of granite rock

    Lichen

    There are currently 145 lichen taxa recorded in Joshua Tree

 

A World of Plants

Joshua Tree is renowned for its plant diversity—there are nearly 800 species of vascular plants found here. Nearly half of these are annual plants, like many of the wildflowers that bloom in spring.

From desert lavender and creosote to palm trees and pine trees, the park has a spectacular number of trees and shrubs. Shrub assemblages here are among the most diverse vegetation types in North America. Joshua Tree is also known for its numerous species of cacti and rare plants.

The park is home to many species of ferns, mosses, and liverworts—also known as bryophytes. Many species of lichens can easily be found growing on the famous rock formations of the park.

The diversity of the plant life found in Joshua Tree National Park provides ample opportunities for study and enjoyment. The park's herbarium documents nearly all of the plants found here. The herbarium's records are available to search online.

With a spectacular diversity of plants and plant communities, it's no wonder the original name proposed for this area in 1930 was Desert Plants National Park!

 

Different Deserts, Different Vegetation

Joshua Tree is home to two deserts: the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. These areas are occupied by different combinations of vegetation. The Colorado Desert, a western extension of the vast Sonoran Desert, occupies the southern and eastern parts of the park. It is characterized by stands of ocotillo plants, ironwood trees, palo verde trees, and teddy bear cholla cactus. The southern boundary of the Mojave Desert passes through the park. It is the habitat of the park’s namesake: the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia). Extensive stands of this peculiar looking plant are located in the western half of the park. The park has a third primary ecosystem located in the westernmost part of the park above 4,000 feet (1,220 meters). The Little San Bernardino Mountains provide habitat for a community of California juniper, Muller’s oak, and pinyon pine.

Threats to Vegetation

The native vegetation communities at Joshua Tree are threatened by a variety of stressors. Urban expansion around the park adds to habitat fragmentation and the increased threat of invasive plants. Elevated soil nitrogen is increasing non-native grasses at the expense of native vegetation. Non-native plants change plant community composition and diversity. They also decrease the availability of water and can increase fuel loads and the risk of a fire. Increased coverage of grasses can increase fire size, frequency, and intensity. Many native plant species are not adapted to fire and recovery is slow to nonexistent. Park staff estimate that invasive plants exist throughout most of the park. There are also invasive insect pests such as tree-boring beetles that could enter the park from the transport of firewood. The threat of invasive plants will likely increase from the cumulative effect of several other resource stressors: increased boundary encroachment, regional development, climate change, and social trailing vectors. Climate change compounds the effects of most stressors on native vegetation. Increased mortality of Joshua trees, pinyon pine, and other sensitive vegetation in the park is expected with a hotter and drier climate. Learn more about the effects of climate change on Joshua Tree.

 

Last updated: October 30, 2021

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