Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

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

Wednesday - March 24, 2010

From: Cranston, RI
Region: Northeast
Topic: Trees
Title: Need help identifying a tree with wintergreen-flavored bark that grew in my backyard during my youth in Cumberland, RI.
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

Growing up in Cumberland, Rhode Island (a town in the northern part of the state) there was a tree in our backyard with thin, brown peel-able bark. The bark itself had white stripes. Under the layer of brown bark was a layer of green, wintergreen-flavored bark. Growing up we ate this dark green layer and chewed the light green sticks left behind after we had stripped the bark away. It was positioned in a fairly shady part of the yard between evergreens. Please tell me, what was this tree?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants has found that it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify a plant from a written description, and usually asks the questioner to provide a picture of the plant in question. From the use of the past tense in your question, I surmise that a photo is not available.

However, your description provides an invaluable clue: wintergreen-flavored bark! With this information, I am going to conclude that the tree you used to eat was Sweet Birch Betula lenta (sweet birch).   In earlier times, these trees were the major source of wintergreen oil (methyl salicylate), but most of it is manufactured synthetically today.

This link from Purdue University provides information about the tree and its products.

The UConn Plant Database  has numerous images of the tree.

 

 

 

 

More Trees Questions

Planting Mountain Laurel grown from seeds in Argentina
April 09, 2014 - Hello, I was transferred to Cordoba, Argentina 2 years ago from San Antonio, the climate hereis similar to S. TX, anyway I brought some mountain laurel seeds with me and they have been in 2 gallon pot...
view the full question and answer

Trees for privacy screen in California
May 31, 2013 - Hi Mr. Smartypants, We are first-time home-buyers of a cute little house and a relatively large lot in Pacific Grove, CA. Unfortunately the neighbors to the north have built a second story with a nic...
view the full question and answer

Clicking heard under an Oak in near Bandera, TX
May 06, 2014 - Hi, I live on a ranch in TX outside of Bandera. We're covered with live oaks, spanish oak and cedar. Last week,as I stood under an oak, I heard a constant fairly loud clicking sound under and around ...
view the full question and answer

My newly planted Redbuds are not doing well.
June 24, 2009 - I ordered and received 2 Red Bud trees from one of the popular ordering houses. They explained that they were dormant and not dead, and gave us instructions on how to plant them, which we followed. Th...
view the full question and answer

Mixed native plantings for steep slope in Austin
April 18, 2007 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants: We wrote to you recently about plantings for a fairly steep slope in a park in Austin. We had asked about grasses and perennials. An article about planting on slopes in this mo...
view the full question and answer

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