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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 - June 30, 2014

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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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.

 

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