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By Karen England.

Photo redit: Karen England. inbox "We've Got Mail!"

Since becoming President, I am now getting all the emails, as well as, any emails sent to the "president" along with the emails, which I’ve been getting for over a year. The emails that I receive run the gamut of gardening questions from members and non-members alike, as you will read from the sampling that follows, and it occurs to me that some of you might like to handle answering the general questions for me and for the SDHS board. If you have a desire to help and would like to reply to the sporadic random questions we receive at our SDHS information email inbox, please send me an email (at either email address listed above or to me directly at

And, even if you do not want to field questions such as these, if any member thinks I might have missed the mark in my responses below, I'd very much like to know what I could say instead in order for me to represent the San Diego Horticultural Society better, so feel free to send me an email!


From M.B.

Troubled Gardenia


I’ve had this potted (plant) since I bought it a year ago and has never bloomed. I’ve fed it and pretty much babied it since. Every day I pick leaves off it like below.  Back history; it’s replacing a 30 year old gardenia (different pot), that did quite well for so long.  I hope you can help me! Thanks, M.B., Vista, CA

Photo credit: SDHS email.
Photos of the troubled Gardenia included with the email.

On Aug 16, 2020, Karen England wrote:

Dear M. B.,

I’m in Vista too, “Hi neighbor!”

Are you on Facebook? We have a SDHS group for just this type of crowdsourcing info. If you are, here’s a link for you to join in and ask this question of the members and show your photos. 

Also, are you in the Vista Garden Club? Here’s a link to them if you aren’t. Your neighbors are very knowledgeable and ready to assist. 

You aren’t alone in this gardenia growing struggle. Here’s a link to the San Francisco Gate with some helpful info for you. 

Cheers for now, hope we meet sometime, stay safe & be well, 

Karen E. for the San Diego Horticultural Society.

From M.B.


Thanks so much for the contacts! I have sent an email to the Vista garden club and I’m hoping they will respond. 

I will try to join in on FB, thank you for the information. Maybe we will meet. 


M. B. 


From: S.M.

In a dilemma



I am a Poway resident. This summer, I noticed a little plant growing in my backyard, next to a baby fruit tree and a baby 'curry leaf' plant. As this plant grew, my fruit tree and herb plant started blooming like they have never done before. 

Yesterday, I downloaded the phone app to identify this mystery plant and found out that it is a wild tobacco plant.

I have researched on the internet and found that it is a poisonous plant and no doubt, I will be chopping off the tobacco plant as we have health issue members in the family. 

I am in a dilemma now whether I need to also chop off my fruit tree and 'curry leaf' tree as they are right next to it. None of my other fruit trees or herb plants have bloomed this quickly. So, I feel maybe the fruit and herb plant is 'inhaling' the tobacco and that is causing them to grow so well.

Would that mean that we should not eat the curry leaves from my curry leaf plant ? And would we be able to eat the fruit once the fruit tree produces fruits?

Please advice (sic) as I am no expert.

Kind regards,


On September 4th, Karen England wrote:

Re: In a dilemma

To: S.M.

Thank you for writing. 

I am hesitant to give you information about a plant that I have not identified personally as we are talking about a serious subject, toxicity, and since botanical nomenclature is the only way to know we are talking about the same plant and common names such as “Wild Tobacco“ can refer to a multitude of plants, all with different chemistry and possible toxic components. 

That said, I see no correlation between the growth of your fruit tree and the curry plant to the wild tobacco plant. They are all growing well due to their common positive environment and growing conditions. 

My understanding is that plants commonly known as wild tobacco do not have ambient toxicity. It must be ingested to cause problems.

Your plants are not absorbing toxins by growing in close proximity to this type of toxic plant. The toxins are not put into the soil by the wild tobacco plant nor are they airborne. You can enjoy your fruit and curry leaves, since they have not “eaten“ or “smoked“ the toxic plant. 

If you think about the vegetable rhubarb, the stems are edible and delicious but the leaves are toxic. It is very possible for edibles to be just fine when grown near inedible plants. Also, Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, is another medicinal herb that is toxic if eaten but does not pollute the herb garden edibles that might be growing nearby. Castor bean is also highly toxic but when processed by professionals gives us Castor oil which is edible. 

All this to say, your fruit and curry plants are safe. 

Get rid of the weed and enjoy your garden bounty. 

My advice; remove the weed completely. Dispose of it safely, i.e. don’t put it on your compost pile that could heat up and cause wild tobacco fumes. 

I’m sorry I am unable, in good conscience, to give you specifics because I have not identified the plant in question for myself. 

If you want specifics. You could take a photo of the three plants together along with a fresh, not old or dried, piece of the wild tobacco plant (put it in a baggie) to your nearest quality garden center (not Home Depot or Lowe’s) and show and ask the professional nursery personnel there and get them to help you with specifics, such as botanical nomenclature, proper plant identification. This way your research about toxicity is about the exact plant that is growing in your yard. 

I wish you much gardening success.  

Karen E. for the San Diego Horticultural Society

(No response from S.M. as yet)


From R.H.

From the SDHS Website


Hello, I have a botanical question.

There is a lovely blooming tree – several actually – each has 5 bright pink petals located on a small section of land between the on ramp from Mission Gorge Road, to I 8 East.

My question is what is this type of tree? It seems unique and perhaps was planted years earlier by a farmer or other land owner before the Interstate came through. I suspect it has some interesting history behind this flower “orchard.” (I live in Colorado and my sister who lives nearby does not believe it is a fruit tree.)

Thank you for your consideration.


Boulder, Colorado

On Sept. 5, Karen England wrote:

Hello R. H., 

Thank you for your question. 

Unfortunately, I need more info. There are too many pink flowering trees in our area for me to be able to go by your description alone. Are the flowers small? Are they in clusters or on a stem singly, etc.

I’m located in Vista, which is in North County San Diego, and I cannot go downtown to see the trees for myself at this time, primarily because of covid. Google Earth does not show trees in enough detail to be able to identify. I looked! 

Does your sister, perchance, have the ability to get a good photo of the trees in question? If so, please send. 

That said, there are many “ornamental”, non-fruiting, varieties of various fruit trees, such as ornamental pear, plum, etc. and if the trees look like fruit trees in bloom they may be an ornamental. Many public areas of San Diego County have been intentionally landscaped over the years with ornamental fruit trees because they bloom profusely in their season quite beautifully without needing pruning or having messy fruit drop. But this may not be what’s planted where you are asking about, it’s just a possibility. 

Thanks again for your email. Stay safe, be well, and have a lovely day,

Karen E. for the San Diego Horticultural Society 

From R.H.


Thank you for your prompt reply.

I will get you those photos from my sister. She and her spouse have been curious over these beautiful trees. For more than twenty years they have wondered, but never had a satisfying response.

Pictures will be forthcoming.


R. H.

(As yet no photos have been received.)


From: M.C.

Re. From the SDHS Website


I saw a bunch of baby palm seedlings at an apartment complex and they dug them up and threw them out. Do you know of any laws protecting plants I could sing (sic) them on? Thank you.  

On Sept. 24 Karen England wrote:

Re. From the SDHS Website

To: M.C.


Thank you for writing. 

I am including an article from this month’s newsletter about palms for your general information because those palm seedlings, (you don’t say what variety palm was growing,) may have been the wrong plants in the wrong place for a great many reasons. 

Just so you know, we are not lawyers, just a group of volunteer horticulturists of all types. What I’m about to say is just my understanding and I’m not personally involved the legal field either. 

The apartment complex has every right to plant what they want, as well as, to remove plants they do not want on their own property. It would be a different story if someone did this on your property, against your wishes, then you would have a legal complaint.

It is also my understanding that the laws that protect certain plant species are applicable only on public lands. 

I’m sorry I am no help to you. 

If you see little palm seedlings growing there again, and you want them, perhaps ask the complex management company if you may have them to grow yourself elsewhere, in exchange for you performing the removal of them from the apartments - then the palms will not be thrown away.  Best of everything, 

Karen E. for the San Diego Horticultural Society

(No response as yet from M.C.)

If you would like to answer questions like these that are sent periodically to the email address, just say so! It will be a big help to the board and a service to the community.


Writer, blogger and social media influencer, Karen England, is the President of the San Diego Horticultural Society and Editor-in-chief of the SDHS Newsletter, Let's Talk Plants! Her home, called Edgehill Herb Farm, is located on a two acre sloping garden in Vista, California. She's on Instagram as @edgehillherbfarm.


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