Aloe wonderland at Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center in Southern California

I would never have known about the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center (JMDC) on edge of Riverside if it hadn't been for my friend Luisa. She lives 45 minutes from there and loves the place. It turns out the many locals don't know about the JMDC either although they're familiar with the giant mammoth figure on the hillside off the 60 freeway. 

The mammoth may be the JMDC's calling card but it's not the only giant sculpture. There are dinosaurs aplenty. I don't know the exact story of how they came to be, but not surprisingly, they're very popular with kids. And the JMDC has a range of programs and activies that appeal to this core group, including school programs (in 2014, 9000 school children visited the JMDC on field trips). A small but excellent Earth Science Museum features fossils, Native American artifacts, minerals and dinosaur eggs, many collected in the Inland Empire.

As whimsical as the dinosaurs are, the main attraction for me were the gardens. And as you can see right at the entrance, where the first set of photos was taken, it's all about succulents.
Dinosaurs and succulents combined do make for interesting snapshots. Where else can you see a dinosaur towering over Agave attenuata or hiding behind a 10 ft. tall Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'!

Agave attenuata in flower (left), Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' (right)

Aloe camperi

Aloe camperi again. The trees on the right are dragon trees (Dracaena draco).

The JMDC is huge (82 acres) but most of it is hillsides left in their natural state. The 6-acre succulent gardens are near Granite Hill Gardens Nursery. It's easiest to park in the nursery parking lot because I'm sure you'll want to buy a few things before you leave. (More on the nursery below.)

I wasn't able to find any definitive information on the history of these gardens, but Luisa thought they were planted by local succulent enthusiasts in the 1960s and 70s. The gardens are roughly divided into Old World (South Africa and Madgascar) and New World. There are no labels and just a few paths. And aside from a handful of other visitors, Luisa and I were alone to explore these beautiful plantings. (The lack of visitors might be because we were there on a Thursday afternoon.)

Stately candelabra trees (Euphorbia ingens)
Panorama of the aloe hill above the nursery

Absolutely perfect aloes; unfortunately I can't say with any degree of certainty what they are

The tall aloe on the right is Aloe sabaea, a species that would never grow in Davis without significant winter protection

Aloe sabaea again

Aloe rubroviolacea hybrid

I loved these ghostly white euphorbias in the back; I'm not sure what they are, possibly variegated Euphorbia ingens

Look at the bird-shaped clouds!

Toppled Euphorbia ammak. Either it got too heavy and/or the soil got too soft during our very wet winter.

Aloidendron barberae

The shrub on the right is elephant bush (Portulacaria afra). In Northern California it's usually a small potted plant!

The path less traveled: Luisa and I were the only ones taking this trail up the hill

This is what we found at the top: an entire row of octopus agaves (Agave vilmoriniana)--and hillsides greener than I've ever seen in Southern California

Agave shawii is beautiful as it is, but look at this variegated stunner! In fact, many rosettes in this clump and another one nearby were variegated.

The dry branches in the forground are from an agave flower stalk

Ferocactus wislizenii

View of the New World garden, with the town of Jurupa Valley and Riverside beyond

What a beautiful clump of Ferocactus (maybe pilosus)

Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris), every botanical garden in Southern California has some

Agave lophantha. Notice the lone purple plant! It's losing its chlorophyll, probably because it's getting ready to bloom.

Agave lophantha and Agave parryi

Weeds are real problem this year. Thanks to abundant rainfall, they've exploded, engulfing these agaves.

Possibly diamond cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima)

Rare variegated barrel cactus (Ferocactus, possibly wislizenii)

Old World and New World mash-up near the nursery

Perfectly shaped maiden's quiver tree (Aloidendron ramosissimum)

Kalanchoe tomentosa

Granite Hill Gardens Nursery is not hard to find. Just look for this dinosaur:

Its head points you in the right direction.

The nursery specializes in succulents. It's not large, but it pays to look around. I found a large and very healthy Aloe tomentosa in a #1 can for only $9. (Aloe tomentosa is one of the very few aloes with white flowers, and unlike most aloes, it blooms in the summer.)

While the sales area above looks like a more traditional retail nursery, I was most excited about the outside tables on the hill above the nursery. They were still a bit sparse (I expect there is more stock later in the spring), but there were a lot of interesting plants. I found a Euphorbia grandicornis (three stems, all blooming) in a #1 can for $9. ($9 seems to be the standard price for 1-gallon containers.)

Here's a panorama of the outside area:

The most unusual feature of Granite Hills Gardens Nursery is this patch of cactus growing in the ground. These aren't part of a show garden. They are for people to buy! You pick out the one you want, a staff member will dig it up for you! I've seen this in Arizona, but never in California. Most of the plants were cardons (Pachycereus pringlei), with a few others sprinked in. Luisa bought a barrel cactus (probably Ferocactus wislizenii).

The Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center may be one of the Inland Empire's best kept secrets, but it deserves to be better known. So the next time you're in the area, look for the mammoth on the hill and take the Granite Hill Drive exit off CA-60!


Index: Trip to Palm Springs, March 2017


  1. The serpentine block walls there, cool. Variegated shawii, awesome. Beautiful sabeas and ramosissimum. I must visit!

    1. You should definitely visit. It should be an easy drive for you (without traffic, that is).

  2. What a fun place to explore, extra nice too with plant bargains. (Now you've got to visit that Prehistoric Gardens place I wrote about, to add to your "plant and dinosaur" photo collection).

    1. I was very happy that there was a nursery. I wish all botanical gardens had one :-).

  3. Gorgeous gardens. Still buried in snow so your photos of blooming aloes and incredible succulents are a breath of fresh of air. Love your blog!

    1. Thank you! I hope your snow will melt soon and give way to spring.

  4. So that's where I can find Aloe tomentosa! I saw the varieg shawii on Luisa's IG feed and felt an immediate need to source one. Thanks for igniting more plant passion, you two!

    1. [brushes off hands] Our work here is done :~)))

  5. The Socal and Az desert towns continue to offer up quirky venues-but this one melds the quirk with a great plant palette .What could be better ?

  6. Gerhard, these photos are so beautiful. Red-orange aloes, green hills, blue skies, fascinating plants everywhere - and a nursery! Great post and a great afternoon. Nursery Open House on March 25th, too. (3.8 earthquake just happened - running off to complete the "Did you feel it?" form.)

    1. Luisa, so glad you liked my photos. They're not perfect but I was hoping they show what a wonderful place this is.

  7. Hello Gerhard, this is a wonderful place!
    Are you sure the ghostly Euphorbia is a Euphorbia? It looks like an old Cereus Jamacaru or some related Cactaceae to me.

    1. Vivien, you're right! I enlarged the photo and it looks more like a cereus. The color threw me. Thank you for the correction.


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