Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

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?


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
2 ratings

Tuesday - February 17, 2015

From: Lockhart, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Problem Plants, Herbs/Forbs
Answered by: Guy Thompson


This question may have more to do with chemistry than botany but I thought I would start here. My sister recently discovered that behind her Chili pequin plants, the brick was being dissolved leaving the mortar intact. Very bizarre, I know but this seems to be the only place it is happening, the rest of the bricks are fine. Ever heard of this happening?


Mr. Smarty Plants must confess to being at a loss to explain this observation, although I am a chemist.  But I am confident that nothing from the Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum (Chile pequin) plant could dissolve bricks.  However, not to be totally dismayed, I will propose a possible explanation.

The unusual property of Chile pequin is the presence of capsaisin, the compound that gives it its fiery flavor. Most birds lack the taste buds that are sensitive to capsaisin, so they can eat the peppers with impunity. Mammals, on the other hand, avoid the burning sensation of the peppers although they may yearn for the other nutrients in the fruit.  Some animals, such as the South American tapir, regularly visit clay licks, apparently eating the clay to detoxify harmful compounds they have consumed.  Macaws and related parrots visit clay licks for the same purpose.  I haven't found any evidence that capsaisin is one of the compounds that they detoxify in this way.  But it set me to thinking.  Suppose some wild animal, for example, a wild mouse, rat, or squirrel, was drawn to consume your sister's peppers and relieved the burning sensation by gnawing on a nearby brick.  Plausable idea, yes?  Or perhaps no.

I suggest that you investigate this situation in further detail.  Could the bricks be gnawed at, showing teeth marks, instead of being dissolved?  Are some of the peppers missing?  This could be a phenomenon new to science.  I hope you will continue looking into it.  I have a feeling that the Chile pequin is only involved indirectly.


More Herbs/Forbs Questions

Planting iris rhizomes in Wisconsin
October 10, 2008 - I live in central WI and was given some iris bulbs (think they are called Rhizomes) and have no idea how to go about planting them. I am very new to planting so step by step instructions with good de...
view the full question and answer

Shade Tolerant Groundcover for Texas
July 13, 2016 - I live in Atascosa county in Pleasanton Texas, I have an abundance of Live Oak and Ash trees shading my property and need a groundcover for my backyard which is nothing but sand and where I have dogs ...
view the full question and answer

Retention pond from Hendersonville NC
April 24, 2012 - We have a retention pond that has recently been cleaned and we would like to plant perennial native plant and grass seeds that will enhance the appearance and contribute to the natural process of filt...
view the full question and answer

Plant ID at Wildflower Center from Waco TX
June 18, 2012 - I was at the Center last weekend and no one was able to answer these two questions: 1. Where can I buy Silver Ponyfoot groundcover? 2. What is the name of the plant with coral blossoms in front of...
view the full question and answer

Need suggestions for landscaping along a creek in Lenoir, NC
July 25, 2011 - I live in Lenoir, NC and would like to landscape my creek bank that is about 90 feet long and is 200 feet from my house. I thought about evergeen bushes maybe rhododendron; some grasses; a few trees ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.