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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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Sunday - May 29, 2011

From: Alpine, CA
Region: California
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of plant in wildflower show
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Was in Julian California yesterday for a wild flower display. Had a bad stomach ache as I was walking around looking at the flowers. Saw this one. About 6 inches tall. Instead of leaves, it had what looked like small rolled oats on either side of its stem from top to bottom. The outside of each round leaf was lacey. The bizarre part was that I stuck my finger out to touch it and it leaned over almost like static electricity and made contact with my finger tip. I tried it several times with the same result. What in the world is this plant and did it have anything to do with me having a stomach ache since the label said good for stomach aches?

ANSWER:

It sounds as if you went to the Julian Women's Club Wildflower Show and it sounds like a fascinating event.  Apparently, they had wildflowers from the area on display with information about Native American uses for the various wildflowers.  It would have been a really good idea to ask them about the plant while you were there, because I don't really have a good idea what it could be. 

Plants can move, of course.  First there are directional growth responses to external stimuli. These are called tropisms. Their roots grow downward in response to gravity (gravitropism).  Many flowers (e.g., sunflowers) track the sun (phototropism).  The tendrils of twining plants move as they search for something to twine around and when they touch something they immediately begin to curve around the object (thigmotropism).  Then there are movements that are caused by touching or vibrating the plant.  These are called nastic movements, specifically seismonasty or thigmonasty.  Examples of this are the leaves of Mimosa roemeriana (Roemer's mimosa) that close when touched or the trap of Dionaea muscipula (Venus flytrap) that closes when an insect touches sensitive bristles inside it.  There are also plants that change leaf orientation depending on whether it is night or day—called nyctinasty.  However, I don't know of any mechanism that would attract the plant to your finger.  My guess is that there was something akin to spider silk that you couldn't see hanging from the plant.  When your finger touched it, it caused the plant to bend towards your finger. 

Also, I think "Good for stomach aches" would mean that it was good for curing stomach aches, not causing them.  Additionally, I am pretty skeptical of the plant making your stomach feel better (or worse) simply from your touching it. For plant remedies to be effective for internal problems, you would need to ingest plant material some way either by eating some part of the plant or drinking an infusion made from plant material.

Again, I'm sorry but I don't recognize the plant you describe.  You might contact the Julian Women's Club (listed under "Service Organizations" on the Julian, California webpage) to see if they have a list of the plants that were displayed at their wildflower show.  You might be able to figure out which one it was on the list.  If you took a photo of the plant, you can visit our Plant Identification page to find several plant forums that accept photos of plants for identification.

 

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