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 - March 09, 2012

From: Dover Plains, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Does Helasia diptera absorb toxic substances from Dover Plains NY
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Dear Mr. Plants, Halesia carolina is described as absorbing toxic substances: herbicides, pesticides and pollutants from water, air and soil. Does Halesia diptera do the same? Thank you.


We believe you may have misinterpreted the following paragraph from our webpage on Halesia carolina (Carolina silverbell):

"Warning: Raw seeds are poisonous and can be fatal to humans and animals. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plant’s different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil."

This is meant as a caution against consuming any part of this plant because they can absorb toxic substances and transmit them to a pet or child that chose to eat them; not that it could be used to clean or de-toxify any particular part of the environment.

Halesia diptera (Two-wing silverbell)Halesia tetraptera (Mountain silverbell) and Halesia tetraptera var. monticola (Mountain silverbell) have no such warnings on their webpage. We did some research to see if this trait was common to other members of the genus Halesia, and found none.  As you can see from this USDA Plant Profile Map, only Halesia tetraptera (Mountain silverbell) is native to New York State.

In short, these plants can absorb a small amount of pollutants for their own protection, but are not a solution to pollution. Also, the plants would be only too glad to pass those pollutants on to any organism swallowing them. However, if you were just concerned with whether it was safe to plant the Halesia tetraptera (Mountain silverbell), we could find no documentation that it was not. From Ohio State University, here is more information. Pictures


More Trees Questions

Problem with oak trees in Mansfield, Texas
September 26, 2010 - We have lost 2 large oaks last year & now another is nearly gone. It has several large patches of missing bark - beneath a thin layer of skin-like membrane that seemed to separate it from the bark i...
view the full question and answer

When to transplant volunteer Cedar Elms in Cedar Park, TX?
October 11, 2012 - We have a number of volunteer cedar elms we would like to transplant. When is the best time to do this? Should they be potted first and later transplanted or transplanted immediately? Thanks.
view the full question and answer

Webbing on the bark of a hackberry tree.
October 03, 2007 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants. We have a large hackberry tree in our back yard that has what appears to be extensive spider webbing covering large areas of the bark at the trunk . . and extending well up th...
view the full question and answer

Growth rate of trees
August 20, 2007 - What is the growth rate of the following plants. (How wide and tall each year? They are all in 1 gallon pots right now.) 1. Agarita 2. Anacacho Orchid 3. Silk Tassel. Is there anything that can be ...
view the full question and answer

Removing yaupon hollies from yard in Austin
July 04, 2009 - We recently moved into a home w/ way too many and much too large (20-30') yaupon holly's in the back yard. I had some of them cut down, but they keep coming up from the roots of the old trees. How ...
view the full question and answer

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