The giant nolina beginning to flower at Tilden Park's Botanic Garden. Photo: Bart O’Brien/EBRPD
The giant nolina beginning to flower at Tilden Park’s Botanic Garden. Photo: Bart O’Brien/EBRPD
The giant nolina beginning to flower at Tilden Park’s Botanic Garden. Photo: Bart O’Brien/EBRPD

After 50 years of quietly minding its own business at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park, a rare desert plant by the name of “giant nolina” has started flowering — probably for the first time ever.

The giant nolina, also known as giant beargrass, is a California native plant found only in the Kingston Mountains of the eastern Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County, according to the Botanic Garden.

There are in fact two nolina plants at the garden, and they were collected by the garden’s founding director, James Roof, and a garden staff member, Walter Knight, from the area near Beck Springs in the Kingston Mountains back in 1966.

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

Photo: Bart O’Brien/EBRPD

“Another unusual attribute of these plants is that they are either male or female,” Garden Manager Bart O’Brien said in a release. “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 does turn out to be female, the blooming will last more than a month, as the flowers yield fruits, according to the garden.

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).

The rare bloom may be trying to compete with another local plant flowering that happens only occasionally at the nearby UC Botanical Garden. The blooming of Trudy the corpse flower, a Sumatran plant officially called Amorphophallus titanum or titan arum, is such an unusual event that the garden puts on free shuttle buses, and visitors flock there to see it in their thousands. That, despite the fact that Trudy is known for being malodorous — its smell is variously described as being akin to a dead mouse or a rotting cow.

The giant nolina, which is not known for any particular smell, can be seen at Regional Parks Botanic Garden, which is open to the public for free every day, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The garden is in Tilden Regional Park at the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive. (Note South Park Drive re-opens April 1; until then, take alternate routes through the park). The Regional Parks Botanic Garden has a public spring native plant sale Saturday, April 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Trudy the corpse flower blooms at UC Botanical Gardens (7.26.15)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...