En EspaŅol

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - January 19, 2011

From: Coppell, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of tall dry, stalk plant in Central Texas
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I'm trying to identify a plant from my childhood in Central Texas, as I'd like to evaluate its potential as a biofuel crop. It is a stalk-plant, growing quite tall, 7-8' on average, with knobbed joints every 1.5-2', and smaller stalky branches from the main. In the vegetative state, it emitted a pungent odor especially when crushed, as well as a sticky white sap. Would it be a Sweet Clover? It looks quite similar, but I'm unsure if there are other similar species that it could be. It grew densely beside a friend's house by a corn field, a very unkempt area. There was literally a forest of these stalks, again very tall. During the dry season, we would use them as staffs and play-swords, as they'd pull up easily, and the branches would snap right off leaving just the main, now woody stalk. Inside, when dry, the white substance had hardened into an interior foam-like pulp. Thanks!

ANSWER:

This particular Mr. Smarty Plants keeps thinking she should know this plant—having been a Central Texas resident interested in native plants for a VERY long time.  I even consulted with other longtime Central Texas residents, but we haven't been able to come up with anything definitive.  Here are several suggestions that have some, but not all, the features you describe:

Cicuta maculata (Spotted water hemlock)  or Conicum maclatum (hemlock) (non-native European plant) that can both grow as tall as you describe, are pungent, and have sticky sap.  Additionally, both are highly toxic (check them out by their scientific names in the Poisonous Plants of North Carolina). They both prefer damp places, however, and you probably wouldn't have played with the living green stalks very much without becoming very ill.

 Heterotheca subaxillaris (Camphor weed) is certainly sticky and aromatic but the tallest I can find reference to is 5 feet and I don't believe it would have nodes/joints.   It does grow in disturbed areas.

Laennecia coulteri (Conyza) is a tall-ish (4.5 to 5 feet) that grows in disturbed areas, but I haven't found any reference to sticky sap or pungent scent and has no nodes/joints as far as I can tell.  Here are more photos and information.

Melilotus officinalis (yellow sweetclover) or Melilotus alba (white sweetclover) are certainly candidates. They were introduced as a forage plant and are now valued by beekeepers.  They are, however, non-native and considered an invasive species.  Both grow very tall and are high in coumarin which would make them aromatic.   I couldn't find any information about their sap and can't really see that there are nodes/joints on the stem.  Here are photos and more information.

All in all, I'm not at all confident that any of these are the plant you are describing.  If you have photos as a dried plant or, better yet, as a green plant, please send them to us at id@smartyplants.org.   We can do a better job, perhaps, with clear, high-resolution photos.

 

 

More Plant Identification Questions

Plant with red berries that grows near the Warner River
August 04, 2008 - We live next to a river, the Warner River, and every year these plants with red berries appear next to the river. we have search for name to no avail: the leaf is unique with one large spade shaped ...
view the full question and answer

Wild onions and garlic in Genus Allium
June 25, 2006 - My husband and I found a strange bulb like plant that when broken open it smells and tastes like strong onion or garlic. The heads are at the top of the plant though not at the root base like most wil...
view the full question and answer

Identification of plant with purple leaves and yellow flowers
April 21, 2008 - I'd like to know the name of a plant that has purplish leaves and sends roots out underground to make new plants. It can be invasive. It has yellow flowers. Leaves are oval in shape. Almost looks lik...
view the full question and answer

Submitting photos to assist with an ID
April 17, 2013 - How do I submit images to assist with an ID?
view the full question and answer

Difference between Erigeron strigosus and E. annuus
July 07, 2011 - How can you tell the difference between Erigeron strigosus or Erigeron annuus. Does one have more flowers on it than the other? Thanks.
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center