En Español

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

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
2 ratings

Sunday - August 30, 2009

From: Denver, CO
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: General Botany
Title: Geographic determination of flower colors
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Hi Mr. Smarty Plants, I'd like to find out if there are any correlation between geographic location and the statistic of flower(native) colors. Here in the Rockies, there seems to be a lot more yellow wild flowers than others. Would location and temperate zone encourage certain colors than others? Thank You


This is an interesting question but, as far as I can determine, no one has done a study on floral color and its correlation with geography.  There have been some studies looking at geograpical separation of color variations within a species (e.g., M. Masco et al.  2004. Geographic variation in flower color patterns within Calceolaria uniflora Lam. in Southern Patagonia.  Plant Syst. Evol. 244: 77-91), but no studies across species. 

We can compare flower color percentages in geographically similar and different areas of North America using our  Native Plant Database.  The National Wildlife Federation estimates that there are 19,000 flowering plants in North America.  Our Native Plant Database contains 7,024 native vascular plants.  Among those are 118 non-flowering plants, the ferns, so we can figure that there are 6906 native North American flowering plants in our databases.  We can use the COMBINATION SEARCH feature to get some statistics on the commonest flower colors over all of North America and then for Colorado and its five adjacent neighbors—Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska and Kansas—that share some geographic features and, finally, for three states that are very different from Colorado geographically—Florida, Washington, and New York.


White = 27.8%  Yellow = 24.7%  Pink = 13.0%  Purple = 13.1%  Green = 9.9%  Red = 6.6% Blue = 6.5%    


White = 25.5%  Yellow = 28.3%  Pink = 11.5%  Purple = 12.2%  Green = 10.9%  Red = 6.3% Blue = 6.6%


White = 25.9%  Yellow = 27.7%  Pink = 11.1%  Purple = 12.1%  Green = 11.6%  Red = 5.5% Blue = 6.4%


White = 26.1%  Yellow = 27.7%  Pink = 12.6%  Purple = 12.6%  Green = 10.7%  Red = 6.8% Blue = 6.2%


White = 25.3%  Yellow = 28.4%  Pink = 12.3%  Purple = 12.1%  Green = 9.9%  Red = 6.9% Blue = 5.8%


White = 28.2%  Yellow = 26.7%  Pink = 11.7%  Purple = 14.5%  Green = 15.5%  Red = 5.5% Blue = 6.4%


White = 30.0%  Yellow = 28.0%  Pink = 10.5%  Purple = 13.4%  Green = 16.2%  Red = 5.0% Blue = 5.9%


White = 25.8%  Yellow = 24.9%  Pink = 12.0%  Purple = 12.3%  Green = 15.9%  Red = 6.0% Blue = 5.5% 


White = 27.1%  Yellow = 25.7%  Pink = 12.7%  Purple = 12.5%  Green = 13.2%  Red = 5.1% Blue = 6.3%


White = 30.1%  Yellow = 24.0%  Pink = 11.5%  Purple = 11.5%  Green = 17.1%  Red = 5.4% Blue = 5.2%  

If we look at Colorado and its three neighbors with mountains—Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico—the percentages of yellow and white are pretty similar, i.e., there is a greater percentage of yellow than white.  Compare this to the percentages of yellow and white in Kansas and Nebraska, Colorado's non-mountainous neighbors, and you see that they have greater percentages of white than yellow.  The three non-neighbor states all have more white than yellow flowers, too.  So, does this really mean anything?  Probably not.  This is an imperfect comparison at best since our Native Plant Database is a 'work in progress' and it doesn't yet include all North American flowering species; plus, we don't have the designation for flower color for all those plants that are in our database.  Furthermore, flowers of some species have multi-colored flowers and/or different color varieties.  There is also the problem of color perception—the same flower may be called pink by one person and violet or lavender by another.  Does a cream-colored flower go in the yellow or in the white category?  For more discussion of flower color differences and perception please see the answer to a previous question.

If our data were better, perhaps we could decide if there were significant differences in flower colors between geographic areas.  Then, what would we attribute those differences to—the temperature, the humidty, the soils?  It is a complicated problem to analyze so I guess this is the real answer—we don't really know if the predominance of a particular flower color correlates with geographic location, but we hope someone is studying this.



More General Botany Questions

Clover in grass in Marysville WA
March 05, 2009 - I noticed clover growing in my grass and know that this is a sign of poor nitrogen in my soil. I would like to know of some native plants / shrubs that I could put near my house in Washington that ...
view the full question and answer

How are full sun, part sun, etc, defined?
April 08, 2014 - Hello, I have a question about sun requirements. Does saying something needs "full sun" mean a particular number of hours? Does it mean 6 or more hours / day? 8 or more? Is there an agreed upon n...
view the full question and answer

Liquid glucose as substitute for sunlight from New York City
December 16, 2012 - I am curious to find out whether liquid glucose can be poured as water for mung bean plants as substitute for no sunlight. Is the possible? Will a specific amount of glucose need to be used? Can liqui...
view the full question and answer

Science Fair Question
December 12, 2011 - Dear Mr Smarty Plants, I'm working on a project for the science fair and I need to find a plant that can survive in all climates in order for my experiment to work. What plant should I use? I hope ...
view the full question and answer

Does music affect growth of necklace pod plants?
May 15, 2009 - Does music affect the growth of the necklace pod plants? this is for a science project! Please help!
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center