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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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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
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Friday - May 23, 2014

From: San Marcos, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Unidentified stalk, possibly manfreda, from San Marcos TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I had a very weird stalk pop up in my yard in San Marcos TX this month (May 2014) It bloomed very quickly and appears to be a manfreda but there is no rosette, or leaves of any kind - just the thick one foot stalk. There has never been a manfreda planted there. Can you tell me how it got there, if it could be what I think it is and any information about the leaves - where the heck are they?? Thanks

ANSWER:

Okay, you win the Stump Mr. Smarty Plants award for this week. This member of the Mr. Smarty Plants has been growing manfreda on apartment porches for several years in Austin. They were purchased in 4" pots at the Wildflower Center plant sale. For a couple of years, they quietly grew larger and longer leaves, requiring transplant to a larger clay pot. They apparently got enough sun to survive on those porches until one Spring they started sending up stalks, slender and fast growing. This didn't all happen the same year, so we have no idea how old they have to be to bloom. We can tell you that all plants need some leaves to survive - photosynthesis uses sunlight to convert nutrients from the soil into food for the plant.

Here are links to the manfredas we have in our Native Plant Database:

Manfreda variegata (Mottled tuberose)  USDA Plant Profile Map showing that this species grows natively only in the extreme southern tip of Texas

Manfreda sileri (Siler's tuberose)  USDA Plant Profile Map, Bexar and Gonzales Cos.

Manfreda maculosa (False aloe)  USDA Plant Profile Map, South Texas to Bexar and Gonzales Cos

Manfreda virginica (False aloe)  USDA Plant Profile Map, East Texas to Bastrop Co.

Manfreda longiflora (Longflower tuberose)  USDA Plant Profile Map, extreme southern tip of Texas

The fact that this plant popped up and quickly bloomed makes it even harder to believe it is a Manfreda. This is a member of the Agavaceae family. These plants all grow in such difficult circumstances that, at least in the case of the so-called Century Plants, work for from 8 to 40 years to accumulate enough energy to bloom and then they die.

You can follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant for descriptions and photos. Following each USDA link will take you to a Plant Profile Map showing where that plant grows natively. All manfredas are endemic to Texas. The plants on my porch and the ones growing in the Wildflower Center are all offspring of plants found on a plant-hunting trip by some of our Nursery Staff to South Texas.

If knowing what this plant is (which obviously, we don't)  has become really important to you, here are some steps you can take:

1. Go to our Plant Identification page for some websites that will accept photographs for identificatio, which we cannot.

2. Dig down to the base of your plant. The manfreda has a bulb-like fibrous root system, which can be divided for propagation. If the part below the ground seems to extend below the ground in a similar fashion to the above-ground stalk, follow the below-ground structure to see where it goes.

3. If you want to see if anyone else in your area has reported such a plant, contact the Texas AgriLife Extension Education Office for Hays County.

If you feel it was dropped there by an alien space ship, you can just go ahead and yank it out if you like, but don't blame us if you get zapped by an alien zapper.

 

From the Image Gallery


Mottled tuberose
Manfreda variegata

Siler's tuberose
Manfreda sileri

False aloe
Manfreda maculosa

False aloe
Manfreda maculosa

False aloe
Manfreda virginica

Longflower tuberose
Manfreda longiflora

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