Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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?

Share

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

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

More User Comments Questions

Would like a "try instead of" list for non-native plants in Austin, TX.
June 19, 2012 - It would be so helpful if, when asked about a non-native plant, you would do a "try instead of" list. I have about 45 plants to reseach from my landscaping firm, and it's wearing me out to try to...
view the full question and answer

Gardening advice for Ontario, Canada
April 20, 2011 - HI there. I see most of the readers are in CA, I am in Ontario Canada. I am in need of some advice on a nice flowering all year round garden for both sun/partial sun/shade garden. Some for direct sun ...
view the full question and answer

True date for Earth Day
March 09, 2006 - My grandson asked me to verify the correct date for Earth Day 2006. Sites on the internet say (a) Earth Day USA is April 22, 2006. (b) International Earth Day is M...
view the full question and answer

Comment on poisonous sweet pea plant from Kalama WA
October 29, 2011 - No question, comment only. I am aware of the story of Christopher McCandless (Call of the Wild)and the belief that he was poisoned by ingesting part of the sweet pea plant; however I am curious what ...
view the full question and answer

Pot on a pillar in a pond in Pflugerville
April 26, 2010 - No question: Just a thanks to Barbara. You can't imagine how hard I laughed when I read the interpretation that I was going to plant Maximilians in a pot on a pedestal in the middle of a pond!!! S...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.