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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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Sunday - January 16, 2005

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Identification of native blackhaw or non-native ligustrum in Austin
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have a native tree in my yard, ca.15-20 feet tall, that has glossy, rounded dark leaves and small clusters of dark purplish berries. (It also has very weak limbs - perhaps grows too fast for its own good? - and consistently loses limbs in big storms). Recently a huge flock of cedar waxwings descended on this tree and munched up the berries, and it made me curious - is there any way of telling what it is without a picture? i don't have a digital camera. I haven't seen other birds like mockingbirds or woodpeckers show particular interest in the berries, but woodpeckers and wrens both like the bark for insects.

ANSWER:

Two possibilities come to mind for your plant—one of the native blackhaws (Viburnum sp.) or one of the non-native privets (Ligustrum sp). The leaves of smooth blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium) and of the rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) both have serrated, or toothed, edges. The Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum), one of the common ligustrums found in Austin, has leaves with smooth edges. You can see more pictures for comparison of the Japanese privet and of the rusty blackhaw in the Archive of Central Texas Plants from the University of Texas School of Biological Sciences.

The berries of all the ligustrums are listed in the North Carolina State University's Poisonous Plants of North Carolina database as being extremely poisonous to humans. Apparently they are not poisonous to birds since cedar waxwings and other birds seem to consume them with great gusto and in large amounts without harm.
 

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