Plant of the Month – Bear Grass

December 7, 2023

Bear Grass Plant Description

Bear Grass, Nolina microcarpa, looks like a clump of coarse grass, at maturity 4 feet high and 6 feet wide. The leaves are 3-4 feet long and about 1/4-inch wide at the base, narrowing to a frayed tip. The leaf margins are finely toothed. A loose cluster of greenish white flowers appears on a 3-foot stalk that rises above the plant in May and June.


Bear grass showing interesting tips
The long narrow leaves of Bear Grass end in interesting threadlike curls.

Native Distribution

Bear Grass is found throughout much of Arizona, in central and southern New Mexico, and in western Texas as well as in Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico. If favors rocky or grassy hillsides from 3,000 to 6,500 feet in elevation.


In the hottest desert areas, give Bear Grass a break with partial shade. Where summer temperatures are less extreme, full sun promotes the best growth. Bear Grass is cold hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Well-drained soil is preferable. Once established, Bear grass is drought tolerant. In the hottest areas, lessen the stress of summer with a deep soaking every few weeks. The flowering stalk can be cut off anytime, but its best to wait until the seeds ripen and fall or are eaten by animals.

Bear Grass use in landscape
Bear Grass provides a great accent with groundcover.



Bear Grass flower
Once older, you might see this unique flower at the base of the plant in the spring.

Landscape Use

Bear Grass’s graceful, mounding form, slender leaves, and large flower cluster attract attention whether featured near a patio or swimming pool or as a focal point in the landscape. A mass planting on a slope would not only be striking but would also control soil erosion. The plant’s arching habit is accentuated when used in a pot or raised planter. Bear Grass combines well with broad-leaved succulents such as Agave and Yucca species.


Did you know that up to 70% of water use is outdoors?

That’s why we love desert plants and feature them each month. It’s still a great time to plant non-tropical plants in your landscape, and you can learn more about Bear Grass and other plants on our Arizona Low-Water-Use Plants page. Visit our page on Choosing and Planting Low Water-Use Plants for tips on plant selection and how to plant properly.

Also, be sure to read through all of our featured Plant of the Month blogs!


From time to time, Water – Use It Wisely features guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. Judy Mielke is a horticulturist, Landscape Architect and the author of one of Water – Use It Wisely’s favorite books. You can find plant descriptions like this and many more in her book Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes.