By Patricia Drackett, Director Crosby Arboretum
The Picayune Item
After arriving at the Crosby Arboretum around five years ago, I noticed many references in our site records about the “Piney Woods” region. I soon realized that there was much more to the Arboretum than just providing education about Mississippi’s native plants. Our facility also interprets the site’s context within the region known as the Piney Woods.
What a sight it must have been for ships sailing our coastal waters in the early 1800s who were shopping for a new mast. I remember hearing stories from history buffs of the awesome impression that the extensive longleaf pine forests were at that time. Although the longleaf pine forest once covered about 90 million acres in the southern U.S., only about 3 percent of this ecosystem remains today.
Then I ponder a similar, awe-inspiring signt, one experienced by groups in the mid-1980s who entered the Arboretum to experience the newly constructed Pinecote Pavilion for the first time. Designed by Arkansas architect Fay Jones, this open-air structure was constructed of locally grown and milled longleaf pine, and is designed to be an abstraction of a pine forest.
In our Arboretum archives, many photos reveal that sight – of the Pavilion being visible from the parking lot, and across the grasslands of the pine savanna. The early photos also show a landscape that is radically different from the lush and diverse plant communities visitors will find on a walk through the property today, and remind us of how far we have come.
In my own early days with the Arboretum, I found myself looking up more often, craning my neck to get a good look at the pine trees on our property, and those lining our area roadsides. It was a challenge at times to distinguish one species from another. The three main types of pine trees that grow in our area are slash pine (Pinus elliottii), longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), and loblolly pine (Pinus taeda).
On tours, we are often asked how to tell one pine species from the other. One great place to compare these trees is in the southern portion of our Savanna Exhibit. Stand at the beginning of the boardwalk that crosses the Pitcher Plant Bog and look northward. You will see a loblolly pine or two, mixed with slash pines all around, and a concentration of longleaf pine toward Ridge Road.
Botanists who provide tips on pine tree I.D. while visiting the Arboretum have referred to the “trashy” look of loblolly pines. Although it’s not entirely kind to say such things about a plant that can’t defend itself, it is a rather apt description. At a distance, you can tell that loblolly has short needles. They range from 6 to 9 inches in length.
Slash and longleaf pine needles remain on the tree for two seasons, while loblolly needles stay on the tree up to three seasons. Loblolly has the smallest cones of the three species. These also seem to stay on the tree for quite a while and contribute to a rather raggedy appearance. Loblolly pine can also be distinguished by having “ouchy”, spiny cones. According to the Mississippi Trees book by the Mississippi Forestry Commission, lobllly has needles in groups of 3 per fascicle.
If you like to create nature crafts, slash pine produces dependably gorgeous cones, up to 7 inches long. They are often a rich rusty brown, and have a “picture perfect” appearance on the tree, in contrast to loblolly. The needles are 2-3 per fascicle, and the needles are 7 to 12 inches long. Their cones are not very spiny, or “ouchy”.
Longleaf pine needles can measure up to 18” long, and cones that can be as long as 10 inches. The branches are thick and candle-like, with needles arranged in distinct fan shapes. Needles are arranges in 3 per fascicle.
The Longleaf Pine Walkway is a U-shaped brushed concrete walkway at the very southernmost tip of the Pitcher Plant Bog. If you sit on the bench here and look northward, you’ll surrounded by young longleaf pine. Some of these look very much like candelabras, and the youngest longleaf pines have the appearance a clump of grass.
You can read a wonderful description summary of the Piney Woods on The Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area (www.msgulfcoastheritage.ms.gov) website. Here, you can learn a great deal about our region in a short period of time. The “History” section describes how logs were floated down the Pascagoula and Pearl rivers in the early 1800s for processing at mills. From there they were shipped to New Orleans or placed on sea-going vessels in the Mississippi Sound, bound for markets across the globe. In the late 1800s, railroads expanded the reach of the timber companies and aided in the transportation of timber products. Many mill towns came and went as the timber resources in an area were depleted
The prescribed burning of our Savanna Exhibit allows visitors to experience a coastal pine savanna much as it would have appeared centuries ago. Such grasslands are rich in herbaceous plant species. If you visit our site regularly, you can see a range of changes through the season, from delicate pitcher plant blooms unfurling from early spring’s charred grasses to spring and summer’s yellow and pink, to the purple and gold in fall.
Come pay us a visit this weekend for o ur fifth annual Forge Day. The event takes place on Saturday, January 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and features metalworking demonstrations by area blacksmiths and knifemakers. For more information, visit our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu or c all th e Arboretum office at 601-799-2311. We are located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
For further exploration:
Have you ever visited, or seen a photo, of the Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, designed by architect Fay Jones? Locate an image of this structure on the Web and note the similarities between this glass-enclosed chapel and the Arboretum’s Pinecote Pavilion. What is the “grass stage” of longleaf pine? How long does it last? How does this shape protect the tree during a fire?