Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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
Not Yet Rated

Friday - August 29, 2008

From: Helotes, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Something to grow under a chinaberry tree
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have a huge Chinaberry on the west side of the house. We enjoy the shade it provides and have it limbed up pretty high, but it's located between two 2-story houses and of course drops buckets of its berries. The grass died underneath the tree because the ground basically receieves zero light, and because the soil pH is so off/toxic (the tree was producing berries when we built the house, and we've been here 10 years, plus you just can't rake up every single last berry). SO! My question is - is there any kind of shade loving ground cover that I can plant underneath this tree that won't keel over and die because of the horrible conditions? If possible, I'd rather not amend the soil. But, if I need to, what would be best to amend with?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants says your best solution is to get rid of that chinaberry tree!  Melia azedarach (chinaberry) is an invasive plant from Asia that outcompetes native species. Here is more information about its invasive properties from the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida and from Plant Conservation Alliance's Alien Plant Working Group. The leaves and roots are allelopathic—this means that they release compounds that keep other plants from germinating and growing—therefore, you aren't going to be able to amend the soil so something will grow underneath.  Additionally, it grows quickly and produces huge quantities of berries that are poisonous to humans and small mammals. 

If you are looking for a relatively fast growing shade tree, Mr. SP would recommend one of the following:

Quercus muehlenbergii (chinkapin oak)

Fraxinus texensis (Texas ash)

Ulmus americana (American elm)

If you like the look of the chinaberry, Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii (western soapberry) is a native tree that has a similar look.  Its berries are also poisonous, but the plant is not allelopathic.


Quercus muehlenbergii

Fraxinus texensis

Ulmus americana

Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii

 

 

 

 

More Invasive Plants Questions

Poverty plant overgrown in Austin
June 06, 2012 - We have a poverty plant that is too big for its space in our yard. We like it and want to keep it. Can it be transplanted easily? What about pruning it.
view the full question and answer

How to tell the difference between native and European thistles
April 19, 2011 - How can I tell the difference between invasive (European) thistles and thistles that are native to Texas? And what is the best way to eradicate the invasive varieties?
view the full question and answer

Blackeyed Susans becoming invasive in Fredericksburg VA
August 10, 2009 - Are the roots of the Blackeyed Susan (BES) invasive enough to actually destroy bulbs. BES have moved into a bed exactly where my oriental lilies were..this year the whole row of red lilies (which had...
view the full question and answer

Pruning of Grape Kool Aid Plant in California
August 03, 2008 - I have a Grape Kool Aid plant and was told it would grow to 6 or 7 feet tall, but it is well over that and I need to know if I can prune it and if so how?
view the full question and answer

Invasive native wild onions in East Granby CT
May 17, 2011 - I have wild onions which have become extremely invasive. I have no idea how to get rid of them, and this year they seem to have taken over my entire flower bed. I tried pulling the bulbs out for sever...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.