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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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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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Sunday - October 06, 2013

From: Edison, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: General Botany
Title: Why plants grow in very hot or very cold areas from Edison NJ
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Why can some plants grow where very cold or very hot?

ANSWER:

This short question goes right to the root of the reason the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, recommends plants native not only to North America but also to the area in which those plants are grown.

Every living thing, plants or animals, must learn to live with the conditions in which they find themselves. Animals can, within limits, move but plants cannot. The plants that survive very cold or hot or dry or wet conditions are the ones that stay alive and, over time, they develop techniques so they can continue to survive. Take a plant adapted over thousands of years from somewhere like, say, Edison NJ and try to make it grow in the Texas sun and days and days of over 100 degree weather, and that plant will probably wither away and die. More importantly, it will not survive to make seeds to propagate itself. The Prime Directive for every livng organism is to make more of itself; that is, to reproduce. If a particular organism is unable to reproduce itself, it will quickly disappear from that location.

Survival techniques for plants include getting enough water (succulents need very little, ferns need a lot), the right amount of sunshine for photosynthesis to occur, the right soils - in fertile, wooded areas soils tend to be acidic. In dry hot rocky desert, the soils are usually alkaline.

So, short answer - plants live where the CAN, and continue to develop the attributes to help them live where they ARE, but this is a slow process. Wherever you are, if you want plants to live where you are, look around and see what plants are already there and doing well.

 

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