En EspaŅol

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?


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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - July 08, 2009

From: Rochester, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Edible Plants
Title: Vegetables for sustainable garden in Rochester NY
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have decided to start growing a small sustainable garden. Therefore I have decided to plant mostly North American native greens and vegetables. I live in upstate New York and so the plants designed for that climate would be best. Any suggestions?


Unfortunately for your purposes, very few vegetables available today are native to North America. Just about anything edible that you would consider for your dinner table is probably not only non-native but so hybridized that the original plant is virually unrecognizable. How about some examples?

Lactuca sativa, lettuce, is unknown in the wild, but is considered totally a cultivated plant. Its distant ancestor was probably Lactuca serriola, a common weed that grows in waste places, fields or clearings in Europe, northern Asia and North Africa.

The taproot vegetable, Carrot, is a domesticated form of the wild carrot,  Daucus carota, native to Europe and southwestern Asia.

And what about that All-American vegetable, tomato? Solanum lycopersicum, tomato, is native to South America, probably first cultivated as a small, round green fruit by the Mesoamericans on the highlands of Peru. 

So, does this mean you can't grow your sustainable garden? No, of course not. We eat those vegetables and fruits, too. Just because the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is concerned solely with the care, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown  doesn't mean we don't use and enjoy non-native plants. We just don't have information on them in our Native Plant Database.

A better and closer-to-home information source would be the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Office for Monroe County. They almost surely have plant lists, even seminars and classes in vegetable gardening, and can give you information on when it is safe to plant and when to harvest in your climate and USDA Hardiness Zone. 

You might also be interested in growing "heirloom plants." These plants, generally speaking, are from plants being grown before the industrialization of gardening and extensive hybridization of plants. When they are planted from seed, the plant usually "comes true" which is generally not the case with hybridized plants. Check this article Keeping the Past Alive Through Plants by Betty Jakum from The Master Gardener of Adams County Pennsylvania and Frederick, Maryland.


More Edible Plants Questions

Making Tea from Croton monanthogynus
August 13, 2013 - Do you have any other information on the value of croton monanthogynus as a tea? Nutritive value? Possible adverse reactions?
view the full question and answer

Are yellow bells (Tecoma stans) edible?
January 25, 2009 - Can you tell me if any part of the yellow bell can be eaten and if so what part. Also is it useful in making natural paints?
view the full question and answer

Can bastard cabbage be eaten from Austin
May 02, 2013 - On a local cooking show they were talking about cooking local foods and mentioned bastard cabbage but never showed how to cook it or if it was in fact edible. Would be a way to help get rid of it if ...
view the full question and answer

Problems with non-native tomatoes from Spokane WA
August 18, 2012 - I have 2 tomato plants in 1 whiskey barrel, they are in abundance with tomatoes. My problem is when the tomatoes start to ripen, half green & half light red within 1 day the tomatoes are really soft ...
view the full question and answer

Petals of flowers on cake from London
August 28, 2010 - Hi could you please confirm whether it is safe to position an amaryllis on top of a fresh cream cake (it will not be eaten, nor will the stem touch the cream, it will be positioned in a non toxic vial...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center