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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!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
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Monday - July 02, 2012

From: Leander, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification, Problem Plants
Title: Identification of stinging plant in Central Texas
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I live on 15 acres on Nameless Road. When walking on property, occasionally my leg/ankle brushes against some plant that "stings" me. Like little needles in my skin. Doesn't last long, but because there's a short delayed reaction, I can't figure out what I'm walking past that has that effect. Maybe a grass or vine? Always near ankles--so not a tall plant, or else one that isn't tall yet. No stickers in skin, just a "poison ivy" type of transfer. I'm stumped! I read your note to a Georgia person about a stinging plant, and I doubt the presence of bugs/caterpillars. Also, doubt it's a tall plant, since not much is tall out here (due to lack of rain). Thanks MUCHO!!!

ANSWER:

Your description sounds like one of the species of Tragia, most likely one of the following:

Tragia betonicifolia (Betonyleaf noseburn).  Here is more information from the USDA Plants Database.

Tragia brevispica (Shortspike noseburn).  Here are photos of T. brevispica.

Tragia ramosa (Branched noseburn).  Here are more photos and information from Southwest Environmental Information Network.

They are small, unremarkable (except for their sting) plant that you not necessarily notice.  Here is an explanation (Tragia ramosa) of how this stinging mechanism works.

By the way, take the name "noseburn" to heart.   I have a friend who decided to test this name and it is, indeed, accurate!

 

From the Image Gallery


Betonyleaf noseburn
Tragia betonicifolia

Betonyleaf noseburn
Tragia betonicifolia

Branched noseburn
Tragia ramosa

Branched noseburn
Tragia ramosa

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