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

Wednesday - July 08, 2009

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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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

Non Toxic Fruit Plants
April 03, 2015 - I am trying to plant on my backyard. My dog spends about 8 hours a day outdoors and I am afraid she will be poisoned. I am overwhelmed by the information of toxic trees\plants for dogs. However, I ju...
view the full question and answer

Information about mustang grapes
March 14, 2016 - We live in the Driftwood area. There is a native vine that looks like Mustang grape but never produces. A friend who is native to this area called it rat vine. I miss my Mustang grape jelly. Is t...
view the full question and answer

How was salal (Gaultheria shallon) used by the troops in WWII?
May 20, 2010 - We live in Vancouver BC. My mother says that during WW2 all the kids in her school were sent out to pick salal. They picked sacks of salal which were then sent to the troops. We are trying to find ...
view the full question and answer

Edibility of fruit of Passiflora incarnata
July 19, 2007 - We have Passion flower vines growing, blooming and producing fruit all over our property and the land nearby. They are growing wild. We are near Greensboro, Georgia which is barely in the Northeast pa...
view the full question and answer

Is the fruit of American Beautyberry (French Mulberry) edible?
March 22, 2012 - I am trying to find out if the "American Beautyberry" or "French Mulberry" fruit is edible? Can you tell me? Your website's information about this plant has been the most informative informatio...
view the full question and answer

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