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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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Sunday - May 24, 2009

From: Plainsboro, NJ
Region: Northeast
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Plant identification
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

It is a small, thin vine growing in the grass in the shadier parts of the lawn. Every 3-4 inches it has two thin stems about three inches long sprouting from almost exactly the same place on the vine. One stem has three leaves with "serrated" edges (two opposite leaves and the one in the middle is slightly longer) The leaves themselves are green and about half an inch to an inch long. The other stems ends in what at first I thought was a berry, but now I think is a cone-shaped red flower with very short (but not sharp) spikes. The flower (and bud before blooming) is surrounded by five tiny green tulip-shaped leaves (three points). From a distance it looks like a very small strawberry. It is not elongated, like alpine strawberries, but fatter. The flower itself is about as tall as a fingernail. I started to notice these plants about 10 days ago (early/mid May) Since I've noticed them in various places in the yard, I'm concerned that my littlest child might come across one that I haven't pulled out and eat it. Should I be worried? Thank you for your help.

ANSWER:

Here are two possibilities for native plants that sound somewhat similar to your description:

1.  Chenopodium capitatum (blite goosefoot) and here are more photos and information

2.  Another possibility is Chenopodium rubrum (Coast blite).

Neither of these appears in any of the toxic plant databases I accessed, but I did find two members of the genus Chenopodium listed in poisonous plants databases.  Neither of these, however, looks like the plant you describe.  They are:

a.   Chenopodium album (lamb's quarters) listed by Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System, Poisonous Plants of Pennsylvania and by Cornell University's Plants Poisonous to Livestock.

b.  Chenopodium ambrosioides (Mexican tea) listed by the Poisonous Plants of North Carolina database.  This species is a non-native.

This doesn't mean that the two first species listed above (C. capitatum and C. rubrum) are toxic, but it does suggest being cautious about them.

Mr. Smarty Plants is rather skeptical that either of the two native species above is the plant you have in your yard.  Given the fact that your small child might find it attractive to taste and we aren't sure of its identity and toxic possibilities, why don't you take photos and send them to us so that we can identify it.  Please visit Mr. Smarty Plants' Plant Identification page for instructions for submitting photos.


Chenopodium capitatum

Chenopodium capitatum

 

 

 

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