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
2 ratings

Wednesday - December 09, 2009

From: Pikeville, KY
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Pruning, Seasonal Tasks
Title: Arrows and Hunting Dogs in Kentucky
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

Mr. Smarty Plants--Is it normal for our arrowwood viburnum to give off a musky odour in the late fall? The smell reminds me of a wet hunting dog.

ANSWER:

In fall, as the leaves change color and begin to fall to the ground, the process of decomposition begins.  There are many micro-organisms that participate in this process and molds make up a large part of them. Before a plant sheds its leaves it withdraws nutrients, carbohydrates and water from them, closes off circulation from the plant to them and they fall to the ground and finish drying out.

When there is a hard frost, leaves that have not been through this process suffer from damage as the water in them freezes and bursts the cell walls in the leaves.  That is why very delicate plants like impatiens turn to mush.  Broad leaved evergreens do not suffer the same fate as they have stonger cell walls and have adapted so that as temperatures fall, the concentration of sugars in their sap is increased.  This prevents the formation of the ice crystals that burst the cell walls.

What is likely happening is that you notice the smell when the temperatures rise after a hard frost and the leaves that have frozen are starting to decompose.

Ahh, the smells of autumn: wood smoke, apple cider and rotting leaves!

 

More Seasonal Tasks Questions

Will watering before a freeze protect an esperanza from a freeze from San Angelo, TX
November 22, 2013 - Would it help to lightly water esperanza before I cover it prior to freeze and/or sleet?
view the full question and answer

Moving a red oak away from the house foundation
January 24, 2008 - About a 3 weeks ago I noticed a 5 ft. red oak growing in my flower bed. I hadn't noticed it growing up through my shrubs until the leaves turned bright red. The problem is that its coming up about tw...
view the full question and answer

What to do about cold damage to spineless prickly pear?
March 05, 2010 - In Austin, Texas our 'spineless' prickly pear cactus is about 6' wide by 4' tall. In the last severe freeze, the top half flattened out and has remained that way. Should I cut the flattened pads o...
view the full question and answer

Overwintering Cardinal Flower in Thornwood NY
October 01, 2009 - I have 6 Cardinal Flower plants in planters. They have mulch on top to keep them moist. Can they stay in the planters all winter? Do I cut the stalks before winter comes or leave as is?
view the full question and answer

Bluebonnets planted in late spring bloom, will they bloom again?
February 06, 2008 - New to South Texas & we decided to plant bluebonnets around our house. The seeds were planted in late spring & we were delighted to watch them start their initial growth-cycle. They ultimately produc...
view the full question and answer

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