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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 - May 19, 2005

From: Baton Rouge, LA
Region: Southeast
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Smarty Plants on Iris native to Louisiana
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

A friend of mine has discovered white iris growing alongside of a swampy habitat in southeast Louisiana where there are blue, yellow and copper/red irises. We presume it is wild because it is in a nature preserve. We cannot find any information about the plant. She has photos; I do not. Do you know what this type iris is called?

ANSWER:

There are four species of Iris native to Louisiana: 1) Zigzag Iris (Iris brevicaulis), 2) Copper Iris (Iris fulva), 3) Dixie Iris (Iris hexagona), and Great Blue Flag (Iris virginica). Any of these, as well as any other plant, can have a mutation that results in a flower without pigment. Most biochemical processes require multiple steps to change basic material into specialized compounds such as flower pigment. Each of these steps requires a protein catalyst--an enzyme. The plants gene's carry the information to make the enzymes. If there is a mutation in one of these genes, the enzyme doesn't work properly and the pigment can't be formed; thus, an albino, or white, flower results. The Species Iris Group of North America (SIGNA) web page indicates that both I. brevicaulis and I. hexagona have rare white forms. The white iris you saw could potentially be any of the four species given above; but, without a picture for us to see, it isn't possible to tell which one.
 

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