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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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Sunday - September 16, 2007

From: hagerstown, MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Care of non-native house plant, probably Coleus
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What would cause the new leaves of a house plant to be solid green? When I bought it, the original leaves were almost like a "tie-dye" fabric (green,yellow,orange, and red).

ANSWER:

Most house plants are non-native tropical or sub-tropical plants. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is committed to the protection and propagation of native plants, because of the economic and environmental benefits. However, we are always glad to help out with plant care, and will see if we can figure out why you're not getting the leaf colors you expect.

Although you didn't say what the plant was, we suspect from your description that it may be a form of coleus. Solenostemon scutellarioides is a southeast Asian species which has been popular as a house plant since Victorian times. It has been extensively hybridized to include most colors of the spectrum except true blue. The first clue we found to why your plant's new leaves are green is that the colors of coleus tend to be more pronounced in a shaded area. In other words, if you have it in a sunny window, try a slightly less bright area. The second suggestion is that you might be feeding it too much plant food. Excessive nitrogen will turn the leaves of most plants greener, and thus thwart the bright colors from appearing. And, finally, it could be that just the new leaves are green; as they mature they may very well begin to show their colors.

So, in summary: dim the light, cut down on the fertilizer, and increase the patience. Hopefully, those new leaves will grow up to be tie-dyed.

 

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