“Nothing the desert produces expresses it better than the unhappy growth of the tree yuccas. Tormented, thin forests of it stalk drearily in the high mesas, particularly in that triangular slip that fans out eastward from the meeting of the Sierras and coastwise hills where the first swings across the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. The yucca bristles with bayonet-pointed leavesdull green, growing shaggy with age, tipped with panicles of fetid, greenish bloom. After death, which is slow, the ghoslty hollow network of its woody skeleton, with hardly power to rotmakes the moonlight fearful. Before the yucca has come to flower, while yet its bloom is a creamy cone-shaped bud of the size of a small cabbage, the Indians twist it deftly out of its fence of daggers and roast it for its own delectation. So it is in those parts where man inhabits one sees young plants of Yucca arborensis infrequently.”
– Mary Austin on Joshua trees, from The Land of Little Rain, 1903.
Interestingly, “Yucca arborensis,” an invalid taxon, was apparently made up on the fly by Austin, perhaps by misremembering the specific epithet “arborescens.” Ten years before The Land of Little Rain was published, botanist William Trelease proposed renaming the Joshua tree Yucca arborescens, which name did not persist. Eventually, the name Engelmann had given the plant in 1872 — Yucca brevifolia — was determined to be valid.
For more than a century one edition of Austin’s book after another has been published containing this error.