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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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Friday - August 07, 2015

From: Taylor, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Plant Identification, Poisonous Plants
Title: Plant Identification
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I live in southeastern Michigan. I found a plant growing in the backyard that caught my eye. I chalked it off as a weed, but it's unique. It is shaped like a bushing type plant, has red stem, each cluster has three big leaves and a purple tubular flower. With 2 leaves surrounding it. The leaves are shaped oddly, like bear claw even. As it branches out theres little grooves with a cactus growth in it. The cactus growth is green. I pulled off the largest one and sliced it open and theres like a hundred or more seeds. Smells sweet. Please help identify it. Plant is currently 24-36" tall and 20" wide.

ANSWER:

This sounds to me like Datura stramonium (Thornapple or Jimsonweed) and it is, to most people's thinking, a weed—but a rather interesting one.  Its nativity is in question (perhaps Central of South America or possibly Asia), but it has spread worldwide.  All parts of it are considered poisonous, even the nectar of the blossoms (see Cornell University–Plants Poisonous to Livestock, North Carolina State University Poisonous Plants and Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System), but it also has been used as an herbal treatment for various ailments that you can read about on Botanical.com.  Here are photos and more information from Missouri Plants, Delaware Wildflowers and University of Massachusetts Extension.  If you have grazing animals (e.g., sheep, horses, cattle) or small children or pets that like to sample plants, you might consider removing it or, at the very least, being vigilant.

 

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