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
Not Yet Rated

Friday - September 09, 2011

From: Arlington, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Plant identification
Answered by: Nan Hampton


In North Central Texas recommended plants, there are three coneflowers listed: Echinacea angustifolia-Black sampson E. purpurea-Purple coneflower E. purpurea-Eastern purple coneflower Is the Eastern purple coneflower by chance E. palida rather than E. purpurea?


Mr. Smarty Plants visited the Texas-North Central Recommended page to find only Echinacea angustifolia (Black sampson) and Echinacea purpurea (Eastern purple coneflower) listed.  E. purpurea has both "Eastern purple coneflower" and "purple coneflower" listed as its common names.  Echinacea pallida (Pale purple coneflower) also has another common name listed—"pale coneflower", but E. pallida isn't on the Texas-North Central Recommended list.  So, I'm not exactly sure what you are asking.  Are you asking if we have the wrong common name associated with E. purpurea?  Should "purple coneflower" be used as the common name for E. pallida?  If that is what you are asking, there is an authority that dictates what the appropriate scientific/botanical/Latin names should be—the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature is the authority that sets the rules—but, for common names there is no authority.  The common names are determined by people who live in the region where the plants grow.  If the plant occurs over a large region, it's almost guaranteed to have more than one common name, especially if the language of the regions are different (e.g., Pluchea odorata (Saltmarsh fleabane or sweetscent) has the common name of "Santa Maria" in Mexico but its botanical name is Pluchea odorata everywhere).  To complicate things even more, common names can refer to two (or even more) totally different plants.  An example for this is Smilax pumila (Sarsaparilla vine) which also has the common names of "wild sarsaparilla," "dwarf Smilax," and "dwarf greenbrier."  This plant is in the Family Liliaceae (Lily Family).  Not only is Aralia nudicaulis (Wild sarsaparilla), which shares the same common name as Smilax pumila, a completely different plant, it is even in a completely different family—the Family Araliaceae (Ginseng Family).  So, if you are asking if we have given the common name "purple coneflower" to the wrong plant, who can really say for sure?   Some people may call E. pallida "purple coneflower" while others call E. purpurea by that name.

Now, it is possible that you are asking if E. pallida should be on the Texas-North Central Recommended list instead of E. purpurea.  You can see by the Texas distribution maps from the USDA Plants Database for each (E. pallida and E. purpurea) that neither is widely distributed over North Central Texas.  E. pallida does have a slightly larger distribution, but they have both been cultivated and grow well there.  According to Joe Marcus, at the Wildflower Center:

"The lists were compiled of native plant species that are both native to a given area and can be found in the nursery trade.  So while Echinacea pallida is known to occur in North Texas, the list compilers could find no nurseries in that area that offered it for sale."

This, no doubt, is why they included E. purpurea and E. angustifolia, but not E. pallida.

Finally, if you are questioning the fact that there are two common names by E. purpurea, then I will point out that many of the plants on the list have multiple names.  For instance, E. angustifolia (Black Sampson) is also called "Black Samson echinacea" and "Narrow-leaf Coneflower."


From the Image Gallery

Eastern purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea

Pale purple coneflower
Echinacea pallida

Black samson
Echinacea angustifolia

More Plant Identification Questions

Identification of tree blooming in Austin with yellow balls
March 21, 2012 - What is the tree/large shrub that is blooming now (mid-March) in the Austin area? It has small mesquite-type leaves, round yellow balls with fuzz on them and is fragrant. Thanks!
view the full question and answer

Identifcation of flower in a bouquet
August 30, 2009 - My boyfriend bought a bouquet and I'd like to know the name of the kind of green flower that looks like a mum but the petals look like rich, full grass or like a tall shag carpet. It has a stem with ...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants on Jewel of the Nile
June 04, 2005 - My husband and I just returned from a short trip to San Francisco. While on a bus tour that took us to the Twin Peaks area, we saw some beautiful purple flowers growing on the hillside. Our tour guid...
view the full question and answer

Identity of mint impersonator in California
May 20, 2012 - Is there such a thing as a mint "impersonator"? There are random 'sprigs' of purple-stemmed, bright green leaf plants in my front yard. We just moved in to the house and I don't want to assume ...
view the full question and answer

Identification of cucumber-like plant with red fruit
July 01, 2012 - Hi; My name is Peter, live in Lewisville. When I walked through a park trail last year, I noticed a very strange vine described as the following: It is vine with leaves and stems (size and shape) lo...
view the full question and answer

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