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?


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
Not Yet Rated

Tuesday - March 04, 2008

From: Swanzey, NH
Region: Northeast
Topic: Wildlife Gardens
Title: Importance of native plants for wildlife.
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I just read Donald Tellamy's new book,Bringing Nature Home. He documents how native plants provide more nourishment for wildlife than introduced plants. The definition of native plants that I use is plants growing here before European settlement. What other scientific studies prove the importance of planting native plants instead of introduced plants for the well-being of wildlife?


I contacted Kelly Bender from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife) to ask for her input on your question. Here are her comments:

"The general consensus is that cultivated plants put their energy into producing the things we find valuable -- like fancy curled or variegated leaves or really big and exotically scented flowers. The energy for these big showy plant parts has to come from somewhere... and, since the nursery person doesn't evaluate nectar quality or seed
carbohydrate/protein concentrations, we expect that those qualities are sacrificed for the other characteristics that people value.

I don't know of any study that supports this thesis -- but that doesn't make it false."

I did a search on several academic bibliographic databases for published articles dealing with the nutritional benefits of native plants over introduced or alien plants and could not really find anything relevant to your question. There are studies and various publications that discuss what plants are being used as food and sometimes their nutritional value (e.g., White-tailed Deer Food Habits and Preferences in the Cross Timbers and Prairies Region of Texas), but not in contrast to introduced plant species.

Tallamy's book, Bringing Nature Home, has an extensive bibliography (7 pages) of works supporting the premise of his book. I suggest you check out some of these for more detailed information supporting his thesis (e.g., Gordon, D. R. 1998. "Effects of Invasive, Non-indigenous Plant Species on Ecosystem Processes: Lessons from Florida." Ecological Applications 8:975-989). Many of these articles in journals are available at a university library or your local library might be able to obtain photocopies of them.


More Wildlife Gardens Questions

Plants for swan food
July 03, 2012 - Dear Mr Smarty Pants, I have a farm in VA with a large pond or lake fenced in. I am rescuing a pair of swan and want to grow plants around the fence and pond that they can eat. Could you suggest an...
view the full question and answer

wildflowers for bees and hummers in central Texas
June 16, 2011 - I'm building a native habitat for different hummingbirds and bees at the Inks Lake Fish Hatchery, and I was wondering what kind of native plants in Texas attract these creatures but are also low main...
view the full question and answer

Plants for Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies in Michigan
April 19, 2009 - I am wanting to raise Painted Lady butterflies and release them into my garden. I know that they like to eat Mallow plants, but I was wondering what kind of Mallow plant would be best for my garden?
view the full question and answer

Mystery tree with yellow fruit in MN
November 12, 2012 - There is a tree at my workplace, about 8' tall, with small, pea-sized yellow berries right now (Oct. 2012). The berries are attractive to Cedar Waxwings, and the tree has small leaves that are simple...
view the full question and answer

Hummingbird plants and Indian Hawthorn
May 13, 2008 - I live in The Woodlands in a new section of homes. I planted some hummingbird plants in full sun and they did ok last year for 4 months, then lost all their leaves and died when the winter came. At ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center