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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 is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - April 21, 2013

From: England, Other
Region: Other
Topic: Non-Natives, User Comments, Poisonous Plants, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Foxglove safety from England
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hi, regarding safety of foxgloves grown near edible plants - foxgloves are good companion plants for vegetables, in case of root vegetables they improve their storage life and quality. Foxgloves protect tomatoes and potatetoes from diseases. Of course I would wash anything I eat that grew next to foxgloves under running water in case some pollen reach my food.

ANSWER:

Thank you for your comments. We get a lot of questions concerning whether other plants are safe around their foxgloves. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants will be grown. In view of that and the fact that you are obviously a gardener in England, we believe we are talking about two different genera of plants.

From the  Nova Scotia Museum The Poison Plant Patch discusses the true poisonous plant Digitalis purpurea. This plant is in the Scrophulariaceae family. There are 26 plants in our Native Plant Database with the common name "foxglove," frequently accompanied by the word "false." Sixteen of these are in the Agalinis genus, 7 in the Aureolaria genus and 3 in the Penstemon genus. All of these are also in the Scrophulariaceae family, but there are no members of the Digitalis (foxglove) genus in our Native Plant Database. The genus Penstemon has visual characteristics very similar to Digitalis. These native plants are Penstemon cobaea (Wild foxglove), Penstemon digitalis (Mississippi penstemon) and Penstemon fendleri (Fendler's penstemon). It would seem likely that some early botanist, possibly European, called attention to that similarity in naming Penstemon digitalis (Mississippi penstemon).

We are aware that many non-native and poisonous selections of Digitalis plants are sold in North America. They are beautiful flowers, evoking the traditional English garden, much admired in the United States. If they have only the common name on the labels and no scientific name, it would be very difficult for a lay person to avoid purchasing the plant. There is little Mr. Smarty Plants can do except remind everyone to investigate carefully every plant for sale BEFORE purchasing it.

One final note, your mentions of using Digitalis in growing vegetables is still out of our range of expertise. Most edible plants considered vegetables are either non-native to North America or so extensively hybridized that recognizing the origin and nativity of the plant is difficult to impossible.

 

From the Image Gallery


Prairie penstemon
Penstemon cobaea

Mississippi penstemon
Penstemon digitalis

Fendler's penstemon
Penstemon fendleri

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