In a land of twisted limbs and giant Dr. Seuss-like branches reaching toward the sky, it stood out among the others.
A group of conservationists were driving through a remote section of the proposed Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in southern Nevada when someone in the car called out “Stop!” said Alan O’Neill, one of the conservationists.
“We were wondering what he wanted to stop for, and he said, ‘Look at that huge tree; it’s really a huge tree.'”
Standing before them was a 24-foot-tall Joshua tree. It wasn’t the tallest they had ever seen, but its trunk was wide, and its branches stretched wider than the tree was high.
“We marveled at it, and I got to thinking this could be the largest one [Joshua tree] in the monument and possibly in the state,” said O’Neill, adviser to the National Parks Conservation Association.
Turns out, it is.
In September, Nevada’s largest Joshua tree was measured by the Nevada Division of Forestry, O’Neill said. Dubbed “The Monument Tree,” it measures 87 inches in circumference and 24 feet tall, and its branches span 28 feet. The behemoth is located off Highway 164 at the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area.
Joshua trees are measured with a point system; the Monument Tree garnered 118 points. Points are awarded for each inch of circumference and foot of height, with a quarter point issued for each foot of crown spread. Nevada’s previous largest documented Joshua tree was in the Las Vegas area and scored just 94 points.
The Monument Tree was recently measured in southern Clark County.
“This turned out to be the largest in Nevada and almost the largest on the planet,” O’Neill said. “It’s kind of proud. It’s very distinctive. It stands out with a big trunk and a nice canopy, it’s not scraggly.”
Joshua trees don’t have growth rings, so it is hard to measure the tree’s age, but O’Neill estimates it at 700 to 800 years old.
Just two known Joshua trees are larger, both located in California’s Mojave National Preserve.
Joshua trees grow only in a small portion of the United States: Southern California and Nevada, Arizona and part of Utah. They are not native anywhere else in the world, according to Chris Clarke, associate director of the California Desert Program at the National Parks Conservation Association.
The future of Joshua trees is in jeopardy.
In a 2018 article, National Geographic reported that Joshua Tree National Park’s iconic trees are likely to be extinct by the end of the century due to climate change.
“To germinate successfully, they need a few wet winters in a row,” Clarke said. “They only flower if they have a cold, wet winter. They need that series of wetter-than-average winters to establish a new generation to survive those hot Mojave summers.”
Clarke said Nevada’s Joshua trees are overall in better shape than California’s due to lower temperatures that help with germination. And they are mostly on public land, protected from private development, while about 40% of western Joshua trees grow on private land. — Amy Alonzo, Reno Gazette Journal/Associated Press