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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!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

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Tuesday - April 20, 2010

From: Chicago, IL
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Plant identification
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I am trying to identify a flowering plant (usually potted) that is commonly seen around homes in Phoenix, AZ. It has a long (1 to 1.5 ft) bare woody stem topped by an umbel of perhaps 15-20 small reddish bell-shaped flowers that hang down. The bells open downward. The flowers are perhaps 1/2 to 3/4 inches long and 1/4 to 3/8/inches across. I don't believe that there are any thorns, so it's probably not considered a cactus.


This really sounds like a non-native plant, especially since you see it mostly in a container.  Our expertise and focus here at the Wildflower Center are with plants native to North America.  The only North American/Arizona native plants that sound vaguely like your description are the following:

Penstemon eatonii (firecracker penstemon)

Penstemon barbatus ssp. torreyi (Torrey's penstemon)

Penstemon barbatus (beardlip penstemon)

You need to realize that identifying plants from descriptions alone is difficult, if not impossible, to do. If none of the plants that we have suggested is the plant you have seen, we would be very happy to give your plant a try if you will send us photos.  Please visit Mr. Smarty Plants' Plant Identification page to read instructions for submitting photos.

Here are photos of the plants above from our Image Gallery:

Penstemon barbatus

Penstemon barbatus ssp. torreyi

Penstemon eatonii



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