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?

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
2 ratings

Tuesday - February 17, 2015

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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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

Standing cypress turning brown in San Antonio
June 12, 2011 - Last year I bought and planted a standing cypress. This year several plants came up. The tallest one was about 1 foot tall. After blooming the plant began to turn brown and die. My question: Is t...
view the full question and answer

Chile Pequin growing well in Charleston SC
January 28, 2013 - Not really a question. I have successfully grown from seed Chile Pequins I picked up in Texas here in Charleston Sc. They are so hardy they come back from their stalks each year and sprout from seeds ...
view the full question and answer

Source for Dichondra from Hillsboro TX
November 26, 2012 - Where can I get dichondra and info about it?
view the full question and answer

Shade-loving plants for birds in New Jersey
March 25, 2013 - What native plants should I add to my property, Zone 6, to feed birds naturally? I have a heavily treed lot, so I'd like names of shade loving perennials. Seed or fruit bearing options would be gre...
view the full question and answer

Growing Texas wildflowers indoors for a March wedding from Austin
October 01, 2013 - I have learned so much from this site! Thank you! I am getting Married this March and I am hoping to use Texas wildflowers for the centerpieces. I hope to grow them in containers indoors and have the ...
view the full question and answer

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