CARSON CITY — NV Energy workers have spent the past three years digging up Joshua trees, yucca plants and cactuses that were growing under the 135-mile final section of the power transmission line joining Northern and Southern Nevada.
They then started replanting them as close as possible to their original locations after the Dec. 31 completion of the One Nevada Transmission Line.
Replanting Joshua trees is no easy chore. To keep them growing at their 1- to 3-inch-a-year pace, workers must make sure they are planted in the exact alignment with the sun as before.
So far, Starla Lacy, NV Energy vice president of environmental services and safety, is pleased with the results.
“It will have been successful if when you drive along the right of way (under the power lines) that you never knew this was a massive landscape project,” she said. “Reports are the plants are doing very well.”
While Joshua trees usually are found only in the Mojave Desert, yuccas grow throughout Nevada. Yuccas and cactuses aren’t that hard to grow, but it takes a couple of years to determine whether they are regrowing. A few defiant residents in the colder Carson City-Minden area even are trying to grow Joshua trees.
To make sure the plants would regrow in their original spots, NV Energy mapped their locations and then put them in seven temporary outdoor nurseries along the One Nevada route from 20 miles west of Ely to the Harry Allen Generating Station, 20 miles north of Las Vegas.
The nurseries were a lazy gardener’s delight. Workers temporarily replanted the various plants, watered them once and then let natural rains take care of them. No fertilizers or nutrients were added.
Desert plants need little water, although gardening websites advise owners of new Joshua trees to water them weekly. Other gardeners recommend that they just be left alone.
Lacy said NV Energy entered into an agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to take special care of the plants as part of the One Nevada project. Most of the land between Ely and Las Vegas is managed by the BLM.
There now are 844 V-shaped towers that hold power lines along the route. The route north of Ely was completed earlier.
The $552 million, 231-mile One Nevada project was especially significant because it ties both parts of the state together for the first time. This will enable producers of renewable energy in rural parts of the state to transmit their power to customers in other parts.
Joshua trees are the “emblems” of the Mojave Desert, said Angela O’Callaghan, a social horticulture specialist with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
She wished NV Energy good luck but called Joshua trees “a little fussy” and hard to regrow if they are taller than 2 feet.
Lack of water is the least of their worries because they live in a desert climate that receives an average 4.25 inches of rain per year, she said.
Yuccas and cactuses are a lot easier to grow, and some can withstand winter cold. Joshua trees do not like temperatures to fall into the 20s for extended periods.
“Desert plants are surprisingly tough,” said O’Callaghan, noting she has seen cactuses native to this area growing in Massachusetts.
Joshua trees are the most startling of the plants. They actually are the largest yucca plants, and they can live for hundreds of years.
And they can be purchased from nurseries on the Internet. Expect to pay $400 or more for a 5-footer, with $75 in shipping charges. If you want to dig your own desert plants off public land, then you need to acquire a permit from the BLM.
The Joshua trees were given their name by Mormon settlers who crossed the Mohave Desert in the 1800s. The tree’s shape reminded them of Joshua in the Bible who reached his hands into the sky in a form of prayer.
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