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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.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - November 20, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Information about non-native tung tree
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I have a tree growing in my yard in North Austin which I can't identify. I have been told it is a 'tong' or 'tung' tree but can't find it in any reference books. It is deciduous, about 30 feet tall and 9" in diameter at eye level. The bark is fairly smooth, pale gray. The leaves are alternate and broadly three lobed with pointed tips but wavy edges. They turn brown on the edges and then yellow in the center in fall. I have seen many smaller specimens beside the road in the western hill country. What is it?

ANSWER:

There is a tree, Aleurites fordii (Tung-oil tree), that is, perhaps, the tree in your backyard.  It is native to China.  Here are information and photos from the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida. Another Asian tree that is a close relative, Aleurites moluccana (varnish tree), is also called by the trade name 'tung'.  Since neither of these are native to North America (our focus and expertise here at the Wildflower Center is with North American native plants), we can't be much more help than to point you to those two possibilities.  If neither of the suggested species above is the plant you have, I recommend that you visit our Plant Identification page to find internet garden forums where you can submit photos for identification.

 

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