Rare Desert Plant Blooming in Tilden Regional Park


A rare event is in motion at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Regional Park: the flowering of the giant nolina (aka giant beargrass). This California native plant is found only in the Kingston Mountains of the eastern Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County – but the East Bay Regional Park District has a specimen a lot closer to home. 

The two nolina plants at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden were collected by the garden’s founding director James Roof and garden staff member Walter Knight from the area near Beck Springs in the Kingston Mountains back in 1966. After fifty years at the Garden, one has started flowering now – probably for the first time ever.

Unlike many plants with giant blooms, the giant nolina does not die after flowering – it just keeps on growing.

“Another unusual attribute of these plants is that they are either male or female,” said Garden Manager Bart O’Brien. “The vast majority of plants are bisexual. Since ours hasn’t opened any flowers yet, we don’t yet if it is male or female.” If it’s female, visitors can expect the show to last beyond a month, as the flowers yield fruits.

The plant as a whole is about 15’ tall, with the flower stalk and flowers about 7’ tall. The individual flowers are very small and are cream-colored, with thousands of densely packed flowers on each branch of the inflorescence. Originally described botanically as Nolina wolfii, it is now categorized with the typically much smaller and more common Parry’s beargrass (Nolina parryi).

Visitors may see the rare occurrence at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, which is open to the public at no charge. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The garden is located in Tilden Regional Park at the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive. (Please note South Park Drive re-opens April 1st; until then, take alternate routes through the park).

The Regional Parks Botanic Garden will host a public spring native plant sale coming up on Saturday, April 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s a great time to see this spectacular desert plant while stocking up on California native plants to take home for planting.

For more information on the giant nolina or the plant sale, call the Garden at (510) 544-3169 or email

 Nolina 1
  Photo: Bart O'Brien​

Isa Polt-Jones
(510) 544-2207