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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

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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Sunday - June 24, 2012

From: Boise , ID
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Plant Identification, Poisonous Plants, Trees
Title: Plant ID of unknown purchased plant from Boise ID
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hi! I bought a tree that the sales person didnt know what it was. I thought it was a cherry tree and now after about 3-4 yrs I know it is but..How do I know if it is an ornamental tree or real fruit tree? This sounds really dumb but there are what look like little tiny cherries but they are only on 1 stem with 1 cherry instead of 2 cherries on 2 stems together? If it is an ornamental tree will it get cherries like that that you can't eat or in a year or so will we have cherries? And if it is an ornamental tree and we eat the cherries will they be sour or bitter and will it hurt us to test taste them? thanks!

ANSWER:

Although it is too late to help you out, we want to say again and again, never, ever buy any plant and especially a tree, that does not have a nursery tag on it. It should have the scientific name of the plant and growing conditions, but it probably won't. It might have a promotional name that has nothing to do with what the plant is, but even that can be searched for on the Internet and you can find the scientific name and then search on that. If you see a plant you like with a cutesy name on it, write it down, go home and search on that name on the Internet and then decide if you are interested in purchasing it. When you buy a plant you know nothing about, you are not only committing time, money and back muscles, but you may purchase and bring home an invasive, non-native, hard to get rid of pest. If it doesn't belong in your part of the country, and isn't invasive, it will very likely die and have to be hauled away. Just a few minutes of common sense can save you a world of expense and trouble.

We don't even have enough clues to know if it is indeed a cherry tree, which would be a member of the Prunus genus. Here is a website on Types of Cherry Trees, which might give you some more clues.

Warning: All parts of Prunus species except the fruits contain poisonous substances and should never be eaten. The bark, leaves, and seeds of this species are especially toxic. POISONOUS PARTS: Wilted leaves, twigs (stems), seeds. Highly toxic to humans and herbivorous mammals. May be fatal if ingested.

It is more likely that the plant is not even native to North America, which is where Mr. Smarty Plants' experties lies. We can't even think of a term to search on the Internet for. About the best we can do right now is, to help you become familiar with our Native Plant Database by searching for possibilities on the berries/cherries, giving you links to their webpages and you might stumble across your plant, we hope. We will choose only those species that have "cherry" in their common names.

In addition, we suggest you contact the University of Idaho Extension Office for Ada County and ask if it is permissible to bring in a stem of the berries and see if anyone there can identify the plant. It could be a large shrub and not a tree at all, but if it is common enough in your area perhaps you will be able to get enough information to see if is safe to keep on your property.

In terms of whether the fruit will ever get any bigger, we doubt it. A tree that you have had that long can be considered to be mature enough that you are seeing its usual fruit. We are going to look at some of the genus Prunus; you can follow the plant links to our webpage on each plant, as well as pictures, and compare them with your tree.

Prunus emarginata (Bitter cherry) - native to Idaho

Prunus virginiana (Chokecherry) - native to Idaho

Prunus caroliniana (Cherry laurel)

Prunus ilicifolia (Hollyleaf cherry) - Pictures

Prunus ilicifolia ssp. lyonii (Hollyleaf cherry) - Pictures

Prunus pensylvanica (Pin cherry) - Pictures

Prunus pumila (Sand cherry) - Pictures

Prunus serotina var. virens (Southwestern black cherry)

 

From the Image Gallery


Bitter cherry
Prunus emarginata

Chokecherry
Prunus virginiana

Cherry laurel
Prunus caroliniana

Southwestern black cherry
Prunus serotina var. virens

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