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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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Friday - April 05, 2013

From: South Elgin, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant, Herbs/Forbs, Trees
Title: Flower color under large pine tree from South Elgin IL
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a very large pine tree that I would like to plant some flowers under. I have hostas, stonecrop and fern, but like to add some color. What do you suggest? Thank you.

ANSWER:

Since we don't know the species of pine that you have and also since the plants you already have are not all native to North America, we will not be able to be too accurate in our answer, but will take a stab at it. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, will recommend only plants native not only to North America but to the area in which the plant will be grown; in your case, Kane County in northeast Illinois. The first thing we will have to find out is if pine trees exhibit allelopathy on plants beneath them. Allelopathy is a process whereby some plants, mostly trees, secrete substances to inhibit growth in plants beneath them to eliminate competition.

There are 6 members of the Pinus (pine) genus native to Illinois, and Pinus strobus (Eastern white pine) is shown on this USDA Plant Profile Map as growing in nearby DuPage and Lake Counties, so we will choose that as an example. We could find no specific indication of allelopathy from that pine, although newly fallen pinecones and needles are thought to exibit some adverse effects. Pine needles that have been on the ground for some time have a minimal effect on plants growing beneath them and, over time, will cause the soil to become somewhat acidic.

Going to our Native Plant Database and, using the Combination Search part way down that page, we will select on Illinois, "herbs" (herbaceous blooming plants) on Habit, and  "shade" and "part shade" on Light Requirements. You can repeat the search for yourself choosing bloom times and colors, height, etc. Follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant to learn its growing conditions, soil requirements and so forth. We will check the USDA Plant Database on each one we select to make sure it is native to northeastern Illinois. This gave us 476 plant possibilities, so there are a lot more out there. We only got to the "F's in the alphabetical list:

Antennaria plantaginifolia (Plantain-leaf pussytoes)

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

Aruncus dioicus (Bride's feathers)

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed)

Campanulastrum americanum (American bellflower)

Caltha palustris (Yellow marsh marigold)

Chamaecrista fasciculata (Partridge pea)

Claytonia virginica (Virginia springbeauty)

Coreopsis lanceolata (Lanceleaf coreopsis)

Erythronium albidum (White troutlily)

Fragaria virginiana (Virginia strawberry)

If you have difficulty finding the native plants you want, go to our National Suppliers Directory, put your town and state or just your zip code in the "Enter Search Location box and click on GO. This will give you a list of native plant nurseries, seed suppliers and consultants in your general area. All have contact information so you can find out if they have what you are looking for before you start shopping.

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern white pine
Pinus strobus

Woman's tobacco
Antennaria plantaginifolia

Eastern red columbine
Aquilegia canadensis

Bride's feathers
Aruncus dioicus

Swamp milkweed
Asclepias incarnata

American bellflower
Campanulastrum americanum

Yellow marsh marigold
Caltha palustris

Partridge pea
Chamaecrista fasciculata

Virginia springbeauty
Claytonia virginica

Lanceleaf coreopsis
Coreopsis lanceolata

White troutlily
Erythronium albidum

Virginia strawberry
Fragaria virginiana

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