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
2 ratings

Wednesday - December 09, 2009

From: Pikeville, KY
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Pruning, Seasonal Tasks
Title: Arrows and Hunting Dogs in Kentucky
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

Mr. Smarty Plants--Is it normal for our arrowwood viburnum to give off a musky odour in the late fall? The smell reminds me of a wet hunting dog.

ANSWER:

In fall, as the leaves change color and begin to fall to the ground, the process of decomposition begins.  There are many micro-organisms that participate in this process and molds make up a large part of them. Before a plant sheds its leaves it withdraws nutrients, carbohydrates and water from them, closes off circulation from the plant to them and they fall to the ground and finish drying out.

When there is a hard frost, leaves that have not been through this process suffer from damage as the water in them freezes and bursts the cell walls in the leaves.  That is why very delicate plants like impatiens turn to mush.  Broad leaved evergreens do not suffer the same fate as they have stonger cell walls and have adapted so that as temperatures fall, the concentration of sugars in their sap is increased.  This prevents the formation of the ice crystals that burst the cell walls.

What is likely happening is that you notice the smell when the temperatures rise after a hard frost and the leaves that have frozen are starting to decompose.

Ahh, the smells of autumn: wood smoke, apple cider and rotting leaves!

 

More Pruning Questions

Decorative Trees for Scenic Bench in Fairhope IL
June 10, 2012 - I am looking for a recommendation for a pair of small trees (does not grow taller than 18-20 feet) that can provide shade on either side of a stone bench. The site is in full sun, western exposure an...
view the full question and answer

Sprout from a non-native sago palm in Poinciana FL
October 16, 2013 - I have two mature (10 years old)sago palms. One of them sprouted a new "head' at the top of the trunk. It is competing with the original one. It is not a pup coming from the root area. Can I cut it ...
view the full question and answer

Sprouts at base of holly in Surprise AZ
November 15, 2010 - Friends have recently planted a holly tree in their front yard. They live in AZ and there is no grass (only rock) around their tree. It was planted as a fairly large tree (about 18 feet).My question i...
view the full question and answer

Pruning time for Smoke Tree (Cotinus obovatus)
February 13, 2006 - Gentlemen: I have a Texas Smoke Tree (Cotinus obovatus). It's doing very well & I wish to prune it before its leaves come out. I understand there are a few trees you don't prune, among them birch. I...
view the full question and answer

Yucca blades damaged by weedeater in Hellertown PA
July 05, 2011 - Can I cut off the blades of a Yucca plant that have been eaten on the edges with a weed wacker and are very unsightly looking? Can they be cut back to the flower shaft?
view the full question and answer

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