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?

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

Monday - June 28, 2010

From: California City, CA
Region: California
Topic: Non-Natives, Septic Systems, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Non-native smoketree for California City, CA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I was wondering if you could tell me if it would be a good or bad idea to plant a Smoke Tree (most likely European) in the vicinity of a septic tank. We are looking for something which will provide a moderate amount of privacy, since we live in the middle of the desert, and have very few neighbors. We are also considering Cordylines as an scattered around the smoke tree. Any help that you would be able to provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance. Ian Kelly

ANSWER:

Sadly, you have presented Mr. Smarty Plants with several ideas he considers bad. First, you should never plant a woody plant, like a tree or shrub, over a septic system. Those woody roots underground are larger than the tree visible aboveground, and relentless in their progress. They can lift sidewalks, crack foundations and certainly play havoc with a septic system. Our recommendation for use over septic systems is always grasses native to the area. Their long fibrous roots will hold the soil, draw up some of the moisture in the septic lines, but will not interfere with them.

Our second version of a bad idea is to plant the European smoke tree, Cotinus coggyria, (from Floridata) which is native to southern Europe, central Asia and the Himalayas.  The Lady Bird Johnson Willdflower Center is dedicated to the growth, protection and propagation of plants native not only to North America, but to the area in which that plant is being grown. 

And, in spite of it being native to North America, we don't think it's a good idea to try to plant  Cotinus obovatus (American smoketree), in your location in the Fremont Valley of the Mojave Desert. Although both the native and non-native smoketrees are listed as being viable in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8, and your area on the eastern border of Kern County is Zones 8a to 9b, it still is a long way from the nearest area where either of them is believed to grow. A few counties in Central Texas are shown on the USDA Plant Profile as having the American smoketree growing, that is as far west as they go. The European smoke tree grows in the East and north up into Canada.  

Both of these trees are relatively rare in trade and difficult to transplant. Since you should not plant it over your septic system anyway, why waste your time and effort over a tree that will probably not survive there?

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Cotinus obovatus

Cotinus obovatus

Cotinus obovatus

Cotinus obovatus

 

 

More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

Help with Habiturf from Bertram TX
March 24, 2014 - I am a resident of Bertram..about 45 min northwest of Austin. I have 1.33 acres of land with my home on it. My front pasture is pretty nice native grass but my backyard is full of weeds. I'm guessing...
view the full question and answer

Plants to stabilize sandy slope in Massachusetts
September 23, 2011 - Dear Mr. Smartypants, I am working on a small public housing project in Chelmsford, MA, northwest of Boston. We have a steep, sunny and SANDY slope and I am stumped as to what to recommend that wi...
view the full question and answer

Use of hand-held seed spreader from Robstown TX
March 20, 2014 - I am planting native turf grass and prairie grasses as part of a backyard restoration on my 1.6 acre home site. My problem is good seed dispersal for the chaffey grass seeds. Have you have any luck...
view the full question and answer

Removing Texas cedar Juniperus ashei from Blanco River banks
February 26, 2014 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, Should cedar trees be removed from our Blanco River banks to prevent them from sucking too much of our precious water before it makes it into the river system? If so, what s...
view the full question and answer

Invasive Indian paintbrushes in Grawn MI
June 04, 2012 - I have lots of Indian paintbrushes crowding my lawn and taking over the grass..what kills it without killing the grass?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center