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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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Thursday - July 04, 2013

From: Plano, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Poisonous Plants
Title: Is Sucissa pratensis (Devil's bit scabious) allelopathic?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center pointed me to you. Can you comment on Devil's Bit Scabious? A neighbor pointed out these volunteer plants in my yard and wants me to kill them. He called them Devil's Bit and claimed that the roots spread poison to kill surrounding plants. These are tall lanky plants with small roundish lavender multi-floret flowers. My research indicates these are beneficial plants and the name is derived from the folklore that the Devil bit its roots out of jealousy and wanted to curb these beneficial plants. Most of the web pages I found are UK in origin. Thank you!

ANSWER:

First of all, Mr. Smarty Plants is part of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center whose mission is "to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes."  Native, in this case, means native to North America.  Second of all, Succisa pratensis (Devil's bit scabious), is native to Europe (including UK) and NOT native to North America and not really in our purview.  It is sold as a garden plant in North America and the ones in your yard are someone's garden escapees.  I searched the internet using the terms "Succisa pratensis allelopathic" and I could find no evidence that the plant is allelopathic (i.e., kills or inhibits the growth of other plants growing near it).   Emorsgate Seeds in Great Britain concurs with your statement about the origin of the plant's common name.  They say:  "Devil's-bit scabious is so named because its roots end abruptly as though bitten off by the devil."

 

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