En Español

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.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

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.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - June 30, 2014

From: Needville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification, Wildflowers
Title: Native flowers versus non-natives
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Native flowers versus non-natives. What guidelines do use for identification. I come across flowers in different habitats and can't identify them as natives. Also, how do you attach a image to a question submitted to Mr Smarty Plants?


There aren't really criteria to distinguish native from non-natives by simply looking at them.  You need to consult an identification source to decide.

Here are a few identification books that should be helpful for your area:


Now, concerning different habitats, if you find a plant growing in an urban setting, e.g., in flowerbeds or the edge of someone's lawn, you can feel pretty confident that it is an introduced cultivar.  True, some people do make use of native plants in their lawns and we encourage and commend this; but, generally, a plant growing in an urban setting is a non-native.  Conversely, plants growing in the "wild" are more likely to be natives rather than non-native.  Many of the plants growing along roadsides in Texas are natives that were planted by the Texas Highway Department. 

You can begin to learn the native wildflowers by using one or more of the field guides listed above and you can join the Native Plant Society of Texas, Houston Chapter to meet people who know a lot about native wildflowers.  They often post field trips with experienced native plant people.

Once you have determined that a plant is a native, you can learn more about it in our Native Plant Database by searching for it by its botanical name.  Common names vary from place to place and the same common name may be used for several different plants.   Botanical or scientific names are precise and refer to only one plant.  For instance, consider plants called "hemlock".   In our Native Plant Database you can find Cicuta maculata (Spotted water hemlock), Family Apiaceae (Carrot Family) and Tsuga canadensis (Eastern hemlock) in Family Pinaceae (Pine Family).  One is a herbaceous plant and the other is a tree.  Not only are they in different genera, they are in different families.  There are many more instances of a common name referring to two or more completely different plants.

Mr. Smarty Plants used to accept photos for identification but we soon learned we did not have enough staff and volunteers to handle the volume of photos we received.   We refer you now to our Plant Identification page where you can find links to several plant identification forums that will accept photos for identification.


More Plant Identification Questions

Plant called crows foot/feet used to make wreaths at Christmas
December 20, 2008 - In Pennsylvania there was a green ground hugging vine I knew as "crow's feet/foot" we used in the 1950s at Christmas time for wreaths and window and door borders. It looked like a cluster of bird'...
view the full question and answer

Plant ID from Woodcreek TX
January 27, 2012 - I would like to attach a photo of a weed in my lawn and have you identify it. How do I send a photo? I have been told it may be ground ivy. Please tell me how to kill it without damaging the lawn.
view the full question and answer

Recognizing poison ivy
June 20, 2007 - I am having a difficult time identifying poison ivy. It seems so many plants look like poison ivy can you help me I don't want to kill everything but on the same hand I don't want to itch. Thanks f...
view the full question and answer

Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) in Jasper TX
October 27, 2011 - Carolina allspice (calycanthus floridus) grows in my yard in East Texas. It is native to the eastern U.S., but I notice there is a variety whose distribution extends through Louisiana. Since I live in...
view the full question and answer

Plant Identification
May 01, 2009 - Curious about the identification of the foxglove-looking plants flowering along the railroad tracks that parallel Lancaster in Handley. Some are white while others are purple. Leaves are about 2-3 inc...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center