On my recent visit to the spectacular Joshua Tree National Park, I got an opportunity to visit the Oasis of Mara and learn about Desert Fan Palm Oases. The Oasis of Mara is located at the Northeast corner of Joshua Tree National Park. The oasis was created by geological movement a very long time ago. The formation of the Oasis allowed for a great diversity of life to take hold, including the native desert fan palms, Washingtonia filifera . There are only 158 desert fan palm oases in all of North America, and 5 are located in Joshua Tree National Park!
Oases often occur along fault lines, where uplifted layers of rock force underground water to the surface. This provides the Oasis with a continual supply of water. There are many fault lines near Joshua Tree National Park, including the San Andreas Fault. The Oasis of Mara is located near the Pinto Mountain fault.
Many insects and birds rely on the Oasis for life. Desert fan palms, Washingtonia filifera, are the essential centerpiece of the oasis, creating a habitat for insects, birds, quail, lizards & coyotes.
Some of the residents of the Desert Fan Palms include: The western yellow bat which roosts in the palms; the hooded oriole which builds its nest under the Palm leaves; and the giant palm-borer beetle, Dinapate wrightii, who lives exclusively in palm oases.
The larvae of the palm-borer beetle spend about five years chewing tunnels within the trunks of desert fan palms. These beetles can eventually kill a palm, but since they only inhabit older trees, they help keep the palm population young. The presence of the palm-borer beetles is considered a sign of a healthy oasis.
The Desert Fan Palms are one of the tallest type of palm trees and the longest living. They grow over 75ft tall and live over 80 years. They are also amazing in that they can live through fire! Well, the oldest ones at least. This is because the vascular tubes that transport water and nutrients are scattered throughout the trunk, unlike most trees whose vascular tissue resides in a ring just beneath the bark. Though fire can still kill young palms, this opens up the area, frees it from competition, and causes more seed production on the mature palms. The abundant palm seeds provide nutrition for a great many desert birds.
The Oasis of Mara has a rich and interesting history, from the Early Indians who moved here to use the fresh water and the palm fronds, to the Miners who came later in search of gold, and the Homesteaders who necessarily followed. Between the Miners & Homesteaders’ over-use of the land and natural geologic movement, the natural oasis waters flow no more! I was told by some long-time residents, that they have not seen natural occurring water here since the 1940s! The Oasis of Mara is currently fed by city water alone. But, with geologic movement there is hope. Someday the sands will shift and the Oasis of Mara will bring free-flowing life-giving water once more.
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