En Español

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

Tuesday - October 15, 2013

From: Milford, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Native alternative to tulips from Milford MI
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What could be a good alternative to tulips? I have not seen a native plant quite like a tulip (except a tulip tree). A good alternative should bloom in April or May and have showy flowers. I searched the database and the best result was the Canadian anemone.

ANSWER:

Well, now, see, that's the thing about the evolution of plants. They evolve in a certain environment in which they are able to flourish in the conditions that prevail there. The same plant is very unlikely to evolve in another environment that is quite different. Because we are really not up to typing all this stuff, we are going to copy a paragraph about the tulip plant from Wikipedia:

"The tulip is a perennial, bulbous plant with showy flowers in the genus Tulipa, of which around 75 wild species are currently accepted  and which belongs to the family Liliaceae. The genus's native range extends west to the Iberian Peninsula, through North Africa to Greece, the Balkans, Turkey, throughout the Levant (Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan) and Iran, North to the Ukraine, southern Siberia and Mongolia, and east to the Northwest of China. The tulip's centre of diversity is in the Pamir, Hindu Kush, and Tien Shan mountains. It is a typical element of steppe and winter-rain Mediterranean vegetation. A number of species and many hybrid cultivars are grown in gardens, as potted plants, or to be displayed as fresh-cut flowers. Tulip cultivars have usually several species in their direct background, but most have been derived from Tulipa suaveolens, often erroneously listed as Tulipa schrenkii. Tulipa gesneriana is in itself an early hybrid of complex origin and is not the same taxon as was described by Conrad Gesner in the 16th century. "

That does not sound a whole lot like Oakland Co, in the southeastern portion of Michigan, does it? Just so you will know we are trying, we are going to search our Native Plant Database for members of the family Liliaceae native to  Michigan. There are 305 members of this family native to North America and 53 native to Michigan. So, we narrowed it down a little more, and added your stipulation for blooming in April and May, which got us to a more manageable 34. We looked at every single webpage of the plants on that list and found only 5 plants that came even close, and they mostly looked like small upside down tulips. These are:

Polygonatum biflorum (Smooth solomon's seal)

Prosartes trachycarpa (Roughfruit fairybells)

Trillium grandiflorum (Large-flower wakerobin)

Trillium viride (Wood wakerobin)

Uvularia sessilifolia (Spreading bellwort)

So, how about this? Go to our Native Plant Database, scroll down to the Combination Search, select on Michigan, then "herb" (herbaceous  blooming plants) under Habit, select the amount of sunlight you have under Light Requirements and April and May in blooming time. See if there is something in the resulting list that, while not looking like a tulip, looks like a plant that would be happy in your garden.

 

From the Image Gallery


Smooth solomon's seal
Polygonatum biflorum

Roughfruit fairybells
Prosartes trachycarpa

White wake-robin
Trillium grandiflorum

Wood trillium
Trillium viride

Spreading bellwort
Uvularia sessilifolia

More Herbs/Forbs Questions

Removing invasive Dichelostemma firecracker plant from Austin
April 12, 2012 - We have dichelostemma firecracker plant & cannot kill it. We need help in getting rid of this plant. Spent another 3 hours digging up corms this afternoon. It is invading our backyard & want it kil...
view the full question and answer

Restoring tornado-damaged property in Alexander City AL
January 29, 2012 - Dear Mr Smartypants, We were struck by the outbreak of tornadoes last spring and our wonderful woods are now unsightly sloping pastures with erosion problems.. many stumps and coils of roots. We are...
view the full question and answer

Wildflowers to complement Mexican hat in Texas
October 22, 2015 - We have 10 acres in Driftwood that has Mexican Hat pretty much everywhere that is not shaded. We are looking to add additional wildflowers to them in order to have color earlier and later in the seas...
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for Brooklyn, NY
January 25, 2013 - Hi Mr Smarty Plants, I'm looking for a fast growing ground cover for my Brooklyn, NY back yard. The area is nestled between 3 buildings and a fairly large tree, so most of the day its shady, but ...
view the full question and answer

Native Texas Hill Country nitrogen-fixing plants
June 07, 2006 - Please help me find a listing of native (TX Hill Country) nitrogen-fixing plants.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center