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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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Thursday - February 28, 2008

From: pflugerville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of old plant called pinks
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

For years my mother had a pretty pink flower in her yard. It was in a little cluster of green leaf like bush. She just called them pinks. They would close in the sun and open in the morning or afternoon. They weren't morning glories, they were little and pink. They were so pretty and my family was wondering if they had a real name. I asked a friend who remembers her mother having those also and this lady also called them pinks. My mother has been gone a few years and we seem to keep coming up with questions that we wish she could answer.

ANSWER:

We also remember flowers in old gardens that were called pinks. They are still around and, in fact, available in the nursery trade. The genus, which includes carnations, is Dianthus, and it is usually under that name that you will find them being sold. They are not actually natives of North America, which is what the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center centers on, but originated in the Meditteranean area. We all know that early settlers from Europe brought starts of their favorite plants to North America, and some, like pinks, have been around so long they seem to be natives.

This Botany.com website has probably a whole lot more information on Dianthus than you really needed, but the one thing we couldn't find was an indication that they closed in the sun and opened in the morning or afternoon. One clue, however, is that in very hot climates (like Texas) they did better in a little shade. Possibly, if your mother was growing them in full sun, they closed up a little in the heat of the day to protect themselves, and cut down on loss of moisture.

Another interesting piece of trivia we found is that the color pink may be named after the flowers, instead of the other way around. The origin of the flower name 'pink' may come from the frilled edge of the flowers. The verb 'pink' dates from the 14th Century and means 'to decorate with a perforated or punched pattern', as in pinking shears, for example.

Here is a website with a lot of Dianthus pictures. Most of them probably don't look altogether like your mother's flowers, because, like most plants in the nursery trade, they have been so extensively hybridized as to be almost unrecognizable sometime. We hope we've managed to answer at least one of the questions you wish you could ask your mother.

 

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