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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 - June 25, 2009

From: Winston-Salem, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Replacing non-native Paulonia tomentosa in North Carolina
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What could I plant in my Winston-Salem, N.C., yard in place of the paulownia tomentosa which is there now (it was NOT something I put there; I only figured out what it was a couple of years ago -- I guess it was a volunteer). I've hung a couple of bird feeders in it and no birds have come; though they do come to my nearby free-standing feeder. My husband says give them time; I think it's that they don't like the tree. What do you think? I'm not one to go cutting down trees wantonly, but I might just replace this one. ..

ANSWER:

As a non-native, the Royal Empress Tree is not in our Native Plant Database. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center we concentrate on plants native to North America. However, Paulownia tomentosa is not only non-native but is considered invasive in many parts of the country. That we ARE interested in. For some background, here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer concerning this tree. There are a number of links in that previous answer to give you information on care, etc. As you can no doubt tell, we are NOT in favor of planting invasive trees.

You are probably correct that the birds don't like the tree. Wild creatures are habituated to eat and linger around vegetation they are familiar with, from eons of experience. If a non-native tree is permitted to take over, and force out native trees or other plants in your gardens, the birds will simply move away to where native plants they can survive with are still being grown.  We would be happy if you cut the tree down, but you will need to be vigilant about seedlings for a long time to come. Just keep yanking them out and don't let them get ahead of you. 

Now, for more satisfactory trees native to your area, we are going to go to our Recommended Species section, and search on trees native to North Carolina under Habit. You can use the same procedure to make your own choices. Follow the plant links to the pages on the individual plants to see what wildlife benefits they provide and, in some cases, what butterflies they attract.

Betula papyrifera (paper birch)

Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud)

Fraxinus americana (white ash)

Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak)


Betula papyrifera

Cercis canadensis

Fraxinus americana

Quercus macrocarpa

 

 

 

 

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