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
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 Herbs/Forbs Questions

Failure to bloom of coreopsis
July 16, 2008 - Hi, 2 things..asked a question last yr re: scuttelaria (sp)-purple etc..you could not locate. Finally did at High Country Gardens in NM. Now a new question: Cannot get my coreopsis to bloom.. Have di...
view the full question and answer

Identity of a yellow-flowered wildflower with prickly burs
May 20, 2013 - Hi there. We have seen a wildflower, probably invasive, that is at least in Travis, Williamson, and Hays counties. We have tried to identify it without success, The structure of the plant is remark...
view the full question and answer

Pruning of non-native oxblood lilies from Austin
March 27, 2014 - My Oxblood Lilies flowered quite late last Fall. Their foliage is still very green. Can I cut it down now or do I have to wait until it goes brown?
view the full question and answer

Blueberries & Raspberries for Walla Walla WA
October 17, 2011 - Which blueberry and raspbery plants grow best and suvive winter in Walla Walla Washington
view the full question and answer

Will Convallaria majuscula grow in Texas?
September 10, 2015 - Can I transplant Convallaria majuscula, American lily-of-the-valley I originally brought from northern Wisconsin a few years back to the Chicago area to my new home in Buda Texas?
view the full question and answer

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