Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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
Not Yet Rated

Friday - November 14, 2008

From: Livermore, CA
Region: California
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Ferns, Herbs/Forbs, Trees
Title: Tropical looking plants for pool area in California
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I am looking for small tropical looking plants, groundcover, and 2-small trees for around my pool. They have to be non-toxic to dogs,cats, and people. They can't attract bees/wasps, or have a root system that may crack the pool walls. I am having a hard time finding what are safe. Plants with colorful leaves are great, since most flowers would be out. I live in Livermore, CA 94551. I think it is zone 10 (not sure). Thank you for your help.

ANSWER:

Well, you've given Mr. Smarty Plants a tough assignment.  First of all, unless we pick ferns and mosses, the plants are going to have flowers of some kind.  And, if they have flowers, it will difficult to find ones that aren't polinated by insects of some sort. Additionally, truly tropical plants aren't going to do well in your climate.  The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map shows Alameda County, California in Zones 9a (20 to 25 °) and 9B (25 to 30 °).  You could consider ferns for some of the plants around your pool.  They do not produce flowers and do not attract insects as pollinators.  Most ferns grow in shade or part shade and require at least a moderate amount of moisture.  Here are a few ferns native to California and Alameda County.  None of them appears on any of the toxic databases listed below and they do look rather tropical:

Ferns:

Athyrium filix-femina (common ladyfern

Blechnum spicant (deer fern)

Dryopteris arguta (coastal woodfern) and photos

Pellaea andromedifolia (coffee cliffbrake)

Polystichum munitum (western swordfern)

Woodwardia fimbriata (giant chainfern) with photos from Stanford University

The following small trees are native to your area.  None of them appear on any of the following toxic databases, but I don't guarantee that they won't be visited by bees and other insects.

Small Trees:

Umbellularia californica (California laurel)

Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon)

Acacia farnesiana (sweet acacia)

Arctostaphylos glauca (big berry manzanita)

Morella californica (California wax myrtle) with photos

Groundcover.  The following are recommended as groundcover.  Neither of them appear on any of the following toxic databases, but I don't guarantee that they won't be visited by bees and other insects.

Ribes viburnifolium (island gooseberry) 

Salvia spathacea (hummingbird sage)

Toxic databases:

Poisonous Plants of North Carolina, Cornell University Plants Poisonous to Livestock, Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System, University of Pennsylvania's Poisonous Plants, and Texas Toxic Plants Database.

 


Athyrium filix-femina

Blechnum spicant

Pellaea andromedifolia

Polystichum munitum

Umbellularia californica

Heteromeles arbutifolia

Acacia farnesiana

Ribes viburnifolium

Salvia spathacea

 

 

 

 

More Trees Questions

Evergreen Privacy Screen for Maryland
November 19, 2012 - I am looking for an evergreen that will suffice to be planted as a privacy screen between my property and my neighbors. Looking to plant a row at the property line. The lot is shaded most of the d...
view the full question and answer

Watering Native Trees in Georgetown, TX
July 19, 2012 - I installed a native/adapted plantscape in early March including several small trees. They were planted in the rocky soil west of I-35 in Georgetown with plenty of added compost and mulch. Other than ...
view the full question and answer

Recommendations for mature oak for Austin
October 08, 2008 - Mr. smarty pants- We would like to purchase a mature oak tree and have it planted in our yard in Austin. Recommendations, things to be aware of, you know, the general smarty pants treatment. Thank y...
view the full question and answer

Using Coffee Grounds under Live Oaks in Texas?
March 18, 2016 - Can you add coffee grounds to live oak tree?
view the full question and answer

Brown circular ring in trimmed branches of redbud tree
January 22, 2009 - I have a redbud tree that was recently trimed back. When looking at the cross section of the branches, I noticed a brown circular ring. Is this a problem and if so what can I do to correct it?
view the full question and answer

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