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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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Friday - June 07, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Why aren't the Caesalpinia species in the Native Plant Database
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Why doesn't the Wildflower Center list Caesalpinia in its plant database? I grow 3 species in my garden with no coddling: C. mexicana, C. gilliesii, and C. pulcherrima. I understand that the latter 2 qualify as exotic to Texas, although they grow well in Austin, tolerate heat and drought, provide nectar to pollinators, and do not spread aggressively. However, C. mexicana should qualify as a Texas native. It has proven root hardy in Austin since 2000 -- including some devastating freezes. It seems worthy of mention in your database.

ANSWER:

The question of nativity is one that is often posed to Mr. Smarty Plants.  We receive questions about specific plants and also the more general question of how "native" is defined.  For the second question, our definition is a plant is native to an area that evolved or arrived in that area without the assistance of man. 

This issue is very important to us since, by institutional policy, our research is limited to those plant species native to North America north of Mexico.  Plant species that are native to Mexico but nowhere in the United States are not included in our research and thus, not in the Native Plant Database

The Caesalpinia species are certainly beautiful plants and some do very well in the Austin area.  Caesalpinia pulcherrima is native to the West Indies and tropical America.  Caesalpinia gilliesii is native to South America.  Caesalpinia mexicana is native to Mexico and according to a some references also occurs naturally in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  If that were the case, Caesalpinia mexicana would qualify for inclusion in our database.

Caesalpinia mexicana is common in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in landscapes.  However, after consulting with botanists who are intimately familiar with the native flora of south Texas, we believe that C. mexicana is not a natural constituent of that flora.  If we find compelling evidence to the contrary sometime in the future, we will happily add that species to our lists of native species.

 

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