Western North American Naturalist
Many desert perennials are long-lived, but there are few data on ages or population structures of desert plants. We used 2 methods to estimate ages of a population of Yucca brevifolia (Joshua tree) in southwestern Utah from a 14-year census of plant sizes. Plant height at the 1st census ranged from 0.08 m to 6.0 m, and trees grew in height at a mean rate of 3.75 cm ⋅ yr–1. Plants also increased slowly in basal diameter (0.142 cm ⋅ yr–1) and branch length (0.024 m ⋅ yr–1), but basal diameter varied greatly from year to year, with many plants decreasing in diameter between sequential censuses. Forms of a nonlinear growth equation (the Richards function) did not fit the data on growth in height, but a simple linear relationship fit the data well. Using height as a linear predictor of age, we estimated that ages of a sample of 69 Joshua trees ranged from <20 to >300 years old, with 75% of the trees between 20 and 100 years and 11% over 150 years old. These data support the assumption that Joshua trees are indeed long-lived.
Gilliland KD, N Huntly, JE Anderson. 2006. Age and population structure of Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) in the northwestern Mojave Desert. Western North American Naturalist 66:202-208