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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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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!

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Tuesday - May 23, 2006

From: Ann Arbor, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources
Title: Learning to identify wild plants in Michigan
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I am trying to learn more about Michigan wildplants by taking one sample home each time I take my dog on a walk. We walk in fields, woods and wetlands in Ann Arbor. Today I found several Jack-in-the-Pulpits, but most of the plants I cannot identify. Is there an efficient online tool to help people like me or must I buy a book? What do you recommend?

ANSWER:

Well, I can tell you what I have found effective here in Texas. I have several books that I use. Sometimes they get me to the correct identification directly, or they may lead me to a family or even a genus that looks hopeful. I then use that information to search the internet. My first choice is our Native Plants Database. You can search by scientific name--all or part of it--and by common name. You can also do a "Combination Search" and use multiple criteria (Bloom Characteristics, Growth Form, Growing Conditions, and Distribution) and narrow down your choices. You can also use the USDA Plants Database to help you pick out a particular species of a genus by searching on the genus name and then looking at the maps to determine which particular species occurs in your state. The USDA Plants Database also contains many photographs. A good web resource specifically for Michigan plants is the Michigan Flora web page. Another internet resource appropriate for Michigan is Wisconsin State Herbarium.

Of course, books are portable. You can visit our Native Plant Bibliography to find identification guides for Michigan. Gleason's Plants of Michigan has a key to help you in identification. The plants are arranged by family with some illustrations included. Lund's Michigan Wildflowers in Color, published in 1998, arranges the flowers by color for ease in identification. Tekiela's Wildflowers of Michigan Field Guide published in 2001 (not listed in our bibliography) also arranges the flowers by color.
 

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