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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 - April 10, 2008

From: Cameron, MO
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of pink flower near Austin
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

My mother found a flower early this spring at Chrystal Falls park just outside of Austin. It was between red and salmon pink in color, tubular in shape and about 4 inches long. It smells very bad, attracts blow flies and only lives for a day or so. It doesn't appear to have a stem, just grows right on the ground. The park people said they had never seen the plant before and didn't know what it was. Hope you can help us, we're both avid wildflower watchers. Thanks.

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants has two suggestions for the identity of your mother's pink flower—one of which isn't a flower at all, but a mushroom. In fact, from your description (no stem and bad smell) I would put my money on one of the stinkhorn mushrooms (Family Phallaceae)—perhaps Mutinus caninus or Mutinus elegans. Stinkhorns are very definitely smelly and are very likely to be covered by flies attracted to the odor. The flies spread the spores from the mushroom that stick to their legs when they walk across its surface.

The plant possibilties are the coralroots—Hexalectris spicata (spiked crested coralroot), Hexalectris nitida (Glass Mountain crested coralroot) or Corallorhiza wisteriana (spring coralroot). These all occur in Travis County, Texas and bloom in the spring. They don't, however, smell really bad, so my guess is that your mother saw one of the stinkhorn fungi.

Mr. SP would really be interested to know if she agrees once she has seen the photos.

 

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