En EspaŅol

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
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 Non-Natives Questions

Hurricane resistant alternatives to crape myrtle
September 02, 2007 - Are there any native small to medium trees (15-25 ft) to use instead of crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia indica)? Crapemyrtles come in many colors and bend with hurricane winds instead of snapping or uproo...
view the full question and answer

Cat deterents
May 01, 2007 - I was wondering if there is such a plant that will deter cats from going in your gardens. I have a problem with them using my garden as a litter box, and had heard that there was a plant that the...
view the full question and answer

Caring for non-native African violet
September 05, 2006 - How do you care for the African violet?
view the full question and answer

Green Pearls or String-of-Pearls plant
August 13, 2015 - Years ago I had a plant I called green pearls because that's what it looked like. It was an inside plant. Can you please help me with this? Thank you
view the full question and answer

Care of non-native potato tree (Solanum macranthum or Lycianthes rantonnetii)
June 20, 2009 - I live in Phoenix. I bought what was called a potato tree. Purple flowers with blooms quite often. It seemed a little puny and twiggy so I fed it Miracle Grow. It is now gorgeous with lovely leave...
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 | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center