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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!

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Wednesday - April 04, 2007

From: manchester, Other
Region: Other
Topic: Plant Lists
Title: Plants for mountainous regions
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I am writing a novel which is set in a mountainous un-named region. Are there any plants,trees & shrubs that are common sights in a number of regions. I don't want anyone to be able to specifically identify the area by what grows here.

ANSWER:

Even though you are writing from the UK, Mr. Smarty Plants assumes you are talking about North American mountain regions since our expertise here at the Wildflower Center is with plants native to North America.

There are several mountain ranges in the United States and Canada. The type of plants that grow in a particular location depends on the the geography, the geology, the elevation and the climate. For instance, the mountains of the west coast of North America from northern California up to Alaska (Pacific Coast Ranges) are classified as temperate rainforests. They receive up to 300 cm/year rainfall. The trees that thrive there are coastal redwood, western hemlock, Douglas fir and western red cedar. There are also an abundance of mosses, liverworts and ferns. Going eastward from the west coast the climate becomes drier in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada ranges and even drier in the Rockies. Elevation begins to play a role as well. At lower elevations you find montane forests made up of ponderosa pines and oaks. As the elevation increases the forest becomes almost exclusively coniferous with giant sequoias, Douglas fir, white fir, and sugar pine. Even higher in elevation there are subalpine forests with lodgepole pines, whitebark pines and mountain hemlock. Still higher you lose the trees and find alpine meadows. In the mountains of the eastern United States, the Appalachians and the Adirondacks, the higher elevations support a spruce/fir subalpine forest; but the lower elevations are characterized by a temperate deciduous forest with a preponderance of broadleaf species such as oak, maple and beech. The understory shrubs and herbaceous plants are also different for each of the different mountain ranges. So, the short answer, I suppose, is that you might get away with saying things about fir or spruce trees for any North American mountain range (depending on the elevation) but you wouldn't be able to name a particular type of fir or spruce or any herbaceous species unless you picked a particular mountain range or region.

If you do pick a mountain range or region, you can find some of the particular plants that grow there if you visit the web page for a national park in the region—for instance, Smoky Mountain National Park (southern Appalachian mountains); Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado); Olympic National Park (Pacific Coast Range in Washington state); Yosemite National Park (California).

 

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