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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!

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Monday - July 09, 2007

From: Sacramento, CA
Region: California
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Care of Dracaena fragrans, cultivar
Answered by: Barbara Medford and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I just recently purchased a tree which I was told was called a Dracaena or also corn plant. I can not seem to find a site that will inform me on how to take care of this tree. If you can please let me know how or where I can find how to care for this plant I would really appreciate that.

ANSWER:

The focus and expertise of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is limited to plant species native to North America. While we are, therefore, not experts on your plant - an African native, we grow tropical and subtropical house plants in our own homes, too, so perhaps we can pass along a couple tips.

The plant you've referred to as the "corn plant" is probably Dracaena fragrans, likely the cultivar D. fragrans 'Massangeana'. It is called that because the upright stalk and leaves resemble a corn plant, Zea mays. The wide leaves make it adaptable to the low light of indoors, and would burn if exposed to sunlight in an outdoor planting. One of the biggest problems in indoor plants is too much moisture or humidity, causing mildew. Symptoms of that are the pesky little fungus gnats that will show up. Make sure your pot is in a good house plant soil and a pot that permits adequate drainage. At the same time, if the tips of the leaves start to turn brown or curl, the plant is probably not getting enough water. Decide which mistake you're making, and then cut it out.

Another problem you will need to make provisions for (and you may already be aware of this) is the size this tree-like plant can grow into. I'm sure you have seen examples of them in shopping malls and large office building lobbies. They can grow to 15' tall and more. That's going to require a big pot, a tall ceiling and a very strong man (or front-end loader) to accommodate the mature plant.

 

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