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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

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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Friday - November 25, 2011

From: Erie, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Early wildflowers for PA
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

What spring wildflower is the first to bloom in Erie, PA?

ANSWER:

This is a question we have seen more than once before, and since the previous times it was also submitted by someone with an email adress @sru.edu we suspect this is a homework question.

So, in the spirit of "give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime" we will tell you how to find the answer yourself instead of giving it to you.

If you visit our Native Plant Database you will see that you can do a Combination Search. If you select Pennsylvania/herbs (herbaceous plants) and then select very early bloom months, the database will generate a list of plants that are native to Pennsylvania and are blooming in that month. Each plant on the list has a link to a detailed information page with images of the plant.  On each page there is a link to the USDA website that will show you in which counties in PA the plant is present.  You neeed to pay attention though to a "weakness" in our database.  If a plant has a very wide native range, it will bloom earlier further south than it does in PA. For example, Helianthus debilis (Beach sunflower) is one of the plants that comes up on the list as blooming in January.  Its native range stretches from Florida and Texas in the south to Rhode Isalnd and New Hampshire in the north.  So it may be blooming in Florida in January, but is not likely to be in Erie (if you look at its image, it should be apparent that it is a summer flower, not a spring flower). That being said, you should still be able to figure out which plant blooms earliest.

Another plant which has a broad native range (and is present in Erie) is Erigenia bulbosa (Harbinger of spring) and it pops up on a Combination Search for January.  It is unlikely that it is blooming in January in Erie, but it may be one of the earliest to bloom. One of the earliest native plants to bloom in my Ontario garden is Erythronium albidum (White troutlily) which is also present in Erie, so it may be your plant.  You might have a better chance of getting a regionally accurate answer by visiting a local nusery or calling the Master Gardeners. at your  agricultural extension office.

We also recommend you visit the Wildflowers of Western Pennsylvania for more information and don't forget to search Ask Mr. Smarty Plants.  If you use the right keywords, you will find a previous answer to your question. 

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Cucumberleaf sunflower
Helianthus debilis

Harbinger of spring
Erigenia bulbosa

White troutlily
Erythronium albidum

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