Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis)

Commonly found in the southern half of the United Stats, the Southern Cattail ( Typha domingensis ) is a a wetland plant which may be found in California, Nevada and Arizona. The Southern Cattail will flower in late spring and summer and produces a densely packed seed spike which may grow up to 13 inches long. The Pistillate spike is the identifying feature on this wetland plant.

Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis)
Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis)

This rhizomatous plant is centered around a simple, erect stem which may grow between 5 and 13 feet tall. Each stem may grow between 6 and 9 long and linear leaves. As with many marsh plants, the cattail has an internal tissue adaptation which allows the direct transfer of air between the leaves and roots, which is similar to a vegetative snorkel. The hot dog shaped brown flower is indicative of a female plant, while the male is characterized by a yellowish tapered cone arrangement.

The cattail is typically found between sea level and 6000 feet in elevation. Native American tries were known to use the plant as thatch, and the young shoots could be utilized as a food source. The seed fluff could also be mixed with tallow and chewed as a gum.

Southern Cattail along a water crossing on the old Mojave road.
Southern Cattail along a water crossing on the old Mojave road.

Recent studies suggest that the Typha is very effective at cleaning the water of bacterial contamination. This includes up to 90% reduction of enterobacteria which is common flora inside of mammalia intestines.

Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)

The Mojave Yucca is a small evergreen tree which flourishes in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of California, Arizona and Nevada. The Yucca’s most noticeable characteristic is its large branches and bayonet like leaves. The rigid leaves are typically dark green in color and can reach up to 4 feet in length. I can also personally attest that they are sharp at the pointy end.

Mojave Yucca guarding the Ring Trail, Mojave National Preserve.
Mojave Yucca guarding the Ring Trail, Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Yucca can reach a height of 16 feet and that mass is supported by a trunk which is up to 12 inches in diameter. The Yucca is typically found on rocky slopes and below 4,000 feet in elevation. The plant blooms are very similar the Joshua Tree and it will send up a cluster of white bell shaped flowers from the top of the stem. This cluster is short lived, but can reach and additional 120 cm in length.

Also like the Joshua Tree, the Mojave Yucca depends upon the white pronuba moth for pollination. This moth will deposit its eggs in the ovary of the Yucca Flower and there by cross pollinate the tree. The moth lavae hatch and consume some the the seeds in a wonderful example of natures balance.

The Mojave Yucca also provided utilitarian purpose for the Native Americans. They utilized the leaves as a source of cordage, which could be woven into blankets, rope, hats and mattresses. The roots of the Yucca contains high levels of saponin, and could be made into a pulp and used as soap The flowers and fruit were a food source and could be eaten both raw and roaster. The black seeds could be ground into flour.

The yucca, with its sharp pointed leaves offer wonderful defensive habitat for snakes, lizards, rabbits, birds and other desert animals.

California Juniper ( Juniperus californica )

The California Juniper ( Juniperus californica ) is a common tree found in California, western Arizona and southern Nevada at medium elevations between 2,460 – 5,250 ft.  Commonly growing 10 and 26 feet in height, the grayish shredded bark Juniper may reach a maximum height or about 33 feet, although this height is rare.  Growing up in California and frequently camping in the Mojave and High Sierra, the California Juniper has frequents my memory and photographs.

A Juniper bush decorates the Mid Hills Campground in the Mojave National Preserve.
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Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)

The Joshua Tree was named for the biblical character by the Mormon Setters as they crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid 19th century.  It is told that the tree reminded the early Mormon’s of Joshua who, much like the tree, held his hands up in prayer.  From these humble beginnings, this tree and its undulating shadows have become of an icon of the desert southwest.

Joshua Tree located in the Mojave National Preserve.

Joshua Tree located in the Mojave National Preserve.

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Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva)

Blown by wind, and ravaged by time, the Bristlecone pine tree is a silent sentinel of the White Mountains in eastern central California.  Only growing high in subapline mountains, Bristlecone pine trees are among the oldest living organisms, reaching ages of 5000 years old, with on specimen being documented at 5,067 years old by Tom Harlan who aged the tree by ring count.  That calculation confirms this one individual tree to be the oldest living non-clonal organism on the planet.

A Bristlecone Pine (not the oldest) located in the White Mountains, CA
A Bristlecone Pine (not the oldest) located in the White Mountains, CA

The Bristlecone pine groves are found between 5,600 and 11,200 ft of elevation on mountain slopes with dolomitic coils and can be reached using the White Mountain Road.  This harsh alkaline soil gives the Bristlecone a competitive advantage because over plants and tree are unable to grow.  The trees grow very slowly due cold temperatures, arid soil, wind and short growing seasons.

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