En Español

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.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

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.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

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.

 
rate this answer
2 ratings

Tuesday - October 02, 2007

From: Plano, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Propagation
Title: Prosopsis velutina (velvet mesquite), Larrea tridentata (creosote bush), rain smell
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I am an El Paso native living in Plano TX. I terribly miss the smell of rain in El Paso and have learned that this smell is due to the velvet mesquite tree and also the creosote bush, among other things. I wanted to know if these were native enough to survive in Plano, and if planting was recommended. If you have more information on what vegetation causes the wonderful smell of rain in El Paso and how I can duplicate it in my yard, I would appreciate it. Thanks.

ANSWER:

Prosopis velutina (velvet mesquite) is native to the desert areas of California, Arizona, Mexico and New Mexico—but obviously "leaks" over into Texas near El Paso. An info sheet from the AHS (American Horticultural Society) states that it does well in the USDA Plant Cold Hardiness Zones of 7-9 and the AHS Plant Heat Zones of 10-7. Plano, in zone 8 for USDA and 9 for AHS, falls well within those ranges. The range for Larrea tridentata (creosote bush) is USDA 8-11 and AHS 12-8, so it also falls within the range of Plano for temperature extremes. However, soil moisture would probably be the biggest deterrent for success of the two species in Plano since the average rainfall for Plano is 29 inches and the average rainfall for El Paso is about 9 inches. As a possible substitute, another mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa (honey mesquite), is native to the Plano area. I'm not aware, however, that it is noted for its pleasant smell after a rain. You should be aware, also, that farmers and ranchers often consider mesquites noxious weeds (even though they are native) and spend a lot of time trying to keep them under control.

In addition to the volatile oils from plants, a big contributor to the distinctive smell that comes after rain is soil bacteria. You should certainly still be able to experience this smell in Plano.

Mr. Smarty Plants has been assuming that you are talking about the distinctive smell that follows a rain, but people also report a unique smell that comes right before a rain. The smell BEFORE the rain has been attributed to a chemical called Petrichor, or in chemical terms—2-decanone. The chemicals that are constantly being volatilized and released from trees and other plants can be absorbed by rocks. The increase in humidity right before a rain has the effect of releasing these chemicals from the rock and creating the smell. Velvet mesquite and/or creosote bush must have this chemical in their makeup if they are contributing to the before-rain smell.

 

 

More Propagation Questions

Propagation of Eastern Redbud
March 25, 2005 - I have collected seeds from an Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis L.) and I want to learn how to germinate them. How can I find out this information?
view the full question and answer

Non-native Moth Mullein as a garden plant from Starksville MS
July 09, 2011 - I collected seeds from a beautiful Moth Mullein growing in a lot which will soon be bulldozed. Would I regret sowing them in the back of a sunny perennial bed this fall. These are from the white-pin...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting Spiderwort in Austin
March 14, 2011 - I have a big patch of spiderwort that has popped up in the middle of my front lawn. Will it survive being dug up and moved to the garden?
view the full question and answer

Germination of seeds of Stephanomeria pauciflora (Brownplume wire lettuce)
February 20, 2015 - I have discovered a very fast growing Stephanomeria pauciflora on property where I work here in Terlingua, TX. At first glance it appears as an invasive weed but on closer inspection with my macro le...
view the full question and answer

Starting Yarrow (Achillea) and Daucus from Seed
July 16, 2014 - I need to deadhead my cottage yarrow. I assume it has gone to seed. What do I do to plant it as seed? If I can do it, can I do it now or do I need to wait until spring. If I need to wait until spring,...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center