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?


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
1 rating

Monday - May 09, 2011

From: Pensacola, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Mystery small tree with many large thorns
Answered by: Nan Hampton


In a small spot on over 2 acres, we have this strange tree/shrub. It is a single, straight stem with no branches, and has profuse, large thorns from top to bottom. At the top of the stem, the leaves grow out in the shape of an umbrella. In the winter, it looks like a brown, dead stick. In the spring/summer, new growth is green with the leaves at the top. Some are 15 feet tall or taller.


This sounds a lot like Aralia spinosa (Devil's walkingstick).  It certainly qualifies in its very thorny straight stem with the new spring leaves occurring at the top of the stem looking umbrella-like.  Here are some more photos from Duke University and information from Floridata.

Aralia spinosa

Aralia spinosa

Aralia spinosa



More Plant Identification Questions

Plant identification, possibly Phytolacca americana (American pokeweed)
September 07, 2010 - What wild growing plant has dark purple berries with a pinkish stem? The purple berries grow on their own stem and not in among the leaves, the leaves are green.
view the full question and answer

Plant ID at the Wildflower Center from Austin
June 18, 2012 - I was at the Wildflower Center today and loved the green plants with delicate white flowers that were in both clay pots in front of the auditorium. Please let me know the name of the plants.
view the full question and answer

Identification of shrub with white flowers in Arkansas
April 09, 2014 - I have about 15 flowering shrubs that just started blooming in a cut-over. They are about 6/7 feet tall and have an entire crown of white blooms that resemble a cross between a Dandelion and a Marigol...
view the full question and answer

Bleeding Heart-Like Plant Identification in PA
May 09, 2015 - Hi Mr. Smarty Plants. We have a plant that looks almost like the bleeding heart, as in the way the bell shaped (not heart) white flowers hang downward on the stem. However, the leaves are broader and...
view the full question and answer

Identification of plant, possibly giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida)
January 30, 2008 - I am trying to identify a weed that was prevalant where I grew up in North Central Texas. It grows in low spots and along creeks. It has woody stalks with short spines, grows 3'- 6' tall, the leaves...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center