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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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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!

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Thursday - March 18, 2010

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Trees
Title: Freeze damage to my Norfolk Island Pine in Houston, TX
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

Houston, Texas experienced a rare 3-day snow event this winter that allowed snow to stay on my 20 ft. Norfolk Pine, in the ground for over 10 yrs. Every branch is now brown with all dead foliage. I have been told to never "top" a tree. Do I have any options to improve the appearance and save this tree? Thank you.

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants thinks that you and your plant have been lucky for over ten years, but your luck just ran out this winter. The Norfolk Pine, aka Norfolk Island Pine (Auracaria heterophylla), is native to a small island in the South Pacific about 900 miles east of Australia. (A lot of people think that they are from Norfolk, Virginia.) As a tropical plant, it is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 10-11;  Houston is in zone 9. It is quite often grown indoors as a potted plant.

You can determine if the branches are dead by using the "scratch test"; scratch a small area of the branch with your thumb nail to remove the bark, if there is no green tissue, you can conclude that the branch is dead. Repeat the process with the stem.The Floridata site suggests that suckers may grow from the root system even if the stem is dead.

This gardening site provides over 65 comments in a Q&A format about problems with Norfolk Island Pine trees.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the focus of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is the use, protection and propagation of plants native not only to North America, but to the area in which the plant is being grown.

 

 

 

 

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