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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - February 17, 2014

From: Dripping Springs, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Problem Plants, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Invasive thistles in wildflower field from Dripping Springs TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

How to get rid of "native" thistles.. I have a large natural field that used to grow a variety of wildflowers, but in 2011 and 2012 it was taken over by thistles. I'm sure they are "native" Texas Thistles, and I let them grow at first because they had pretty purple flowers. But then they took over, were tall, horrible, thorny, plants. I couldn't walk through the field without being hurt. And after blooming they got very UGLY. So in 2013 I didn't let any thistle go to seed and was on my hands and knees digging them up constantly. Last fall I planted a bunch of wildflowers. Now I see the wildflowers sprouts AND tons of thistle rosettes trying to crowd them out! I'm back out there trying to dig up the young thistle without hurting the wildflowers. HOW LONG will this go on? Will I ever get rid of them?! Why is this plant considered "OK" just because it's a "native" when it chokes out other plants and is SO unpleasant - pretty purple flowers aside.

ANSWER:

We don't think Mr. Smarty Plants has ever said that a plant is "okay" simply because it is native. You don't hear us promoting Toxicodendron radicans (Eastern poison ivy), do you? Even on native plants, we will always make statements in our webpages about invasiveness and poisonous problems. And we don't send out  secret agents to sprinkle native seeds in unsuspecting gardener's property, honest. Our recommendation is always to investigate any plant for its characteristics and growing conditions BEFORE it is planted in order to make a good decision on whether to include it in your plants or not. And we always recommend plants native to your specific area because there is a better assurance that they will prosper in the climate, rainfall and soils where they are planted. Obviously, you got no opportunity to make those decisions before the thistles arrived.

Here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer on Native and Non-native Thistles from San Marcos TX, also in Hays County, which might help you at least identify what you have. It mentions the first native thistle we thought of, Cirsium ochrocentrum (Yellowspine thistle), see the fearsome illustration of it from our Image Gallery below. Native or not, we absolutely do not blame you for wanting to be rid of those plants, but therein lies the rub.

Mr. Smarty Plants has addressed this exact question before and, even though this previous answer is from Ohio, it tells you exactly what we would say again, and we are getting lazy. Easier for the same answer to be read twice than for us to type the same answer twice. We do warn you, this is not going to be easy, native or not, these plants take care of themselves.

Lesson learned for all gardeners from this: Never put off dealing with a plant that you don't want, get it out before it gets you out. No matter who planted it - wind, birds, aliens, even you - if it doesn't work where it is, it's out of there!

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans

Yellowspine thistle
Cirsium ochrocentrum

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