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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

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 - July 18, 2014

From: Inwood, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Non-Natives, Plant Identification
Title: Tall plant with bell-shaped upside-down white flowers
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

2 tall plants grew outside my suburban New York house in June, blossomed late June. They looked like giant asparagus stalks, and the flowers were white, bell shaped, upside down, look like fairy skirts with individual overlapping petals. The petals are very stiff, feel almost like plastic. The flower has no smell at all. No one can identify it, do you know what it is?

ANSWER:

First of all, Asparagus officinalis (Asparagus), a native of Europe, Asia and Northern Africa, that has been naturalized all over the US has bell-shaped flowers that can be described as being green to brown, yellow, or white.  Asparagus is dioecious (male and female flowers are produced on different plants).  You can determine if your plants are male by looking inside the flowers for stamens containing the pollen or, if female, with the pistil and stigma and lack of stamens.  Additionally, only females will produce the red berries.  Mr. Smarty Plants suspects this is identity of your plant; but, in case it isn't, here are some native plant possibilities.

To find native plants that match your description, Mr. Smarty Plants did a COMBINATION SEARCH in our Native Plant Database by choosing New York from the Select State or Province slot, Herb" from the Habit (general appearance) slot, "May", "June", "July" from Bloom Time and "White" from Bloom Color.  This search produced a list of more than 340 native plants in New York that matched these criteria.  Mr. Smarty Plants assumed by comparing the stalks to asparagus meant that they didn't have prominent leaves.  You should do the search yourself to see all the other possibilities, but here are four that look somewhat similar to your description.

Aletris farinosa (White colicroot)

Goodyera repens (Lesser rattlesnake plantain)

Monotropa uniflora (Indianpipe)  These don't grow exceptionally tall, but the flowers do match your description.  Here is more information from Botanical Society of America.

Uvularia sessilifolia (Spreading bellwort)

Another native plant that matches your description for the stalk and flowers is Yucca filamentosa (Adam's needle).  However, the stalk arises from a clump of long pointed leaves that you wouldn't likely miss.

If none of the above is your plant and you have photographs of it, please visit our Plant Identification page to find links to several plant identification forums that will accept photos of plants for identification.

 

From the Image Gallery


White colicroot
Aletris farinosa

White colicroot
Aletris farinosa

Lesser rattlesnake plantain
Goodyera repens

Lesser rattlesnake plantain
Goodyera repens

Indianpipe
Monotropa uniflora

Indianpipe
Monotropa uniflora

Spreading bellwort
Uvularia sessilifolia

Spreading bellwort
Uvularia sessilifolia

Adam's needle
Yucca filamentosa

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