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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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Friday - April 01, 2011

From: Round Rock, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of tree along Austin highways
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I am trying to identify a large tree seen along many Austin Highways. The best ID can find is Western Soapberry, but the articles all specify white blooms. The trees I see have purple clusters of blooms. They do have the pods seen on Soapberry. Is this a soapberry variety?

ANSWER:

The tree you are describing sounds like Melia azedarach (chinaberry tree). You are correct that its leaves and fruits resemble those of Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii (Western soapberry), but it is an invasive, non-native introduced to the US from Asia.  Here are more photos and more information.

Here are photos from our Image Gallery of Western soapberry:


Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii


Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii


Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii

 

 

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