By Patricia Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum/MSU Extension Service
The Picayune Item
Spring is now in full swing at the Crosby Arboretum, and the show is well on its way toward a crescendo. The blooms of native purple Iris can be seen along the edge of the Piney Woods pond, pink “honeysuckle” azalea is flowering near the Pinecote Pavilion, and the yellow blooms of the pitcher plants — called “buttercups” by local residents — are beginning to carpet the south Savanna Exhibit.
This is one of the Arboretum’s busiest times of year, when visitors grab their cameras and flock to our site to see spring unfurl, and to drink in a riot of blooms. Following the early show of the sweet-smelling pink Piedmont azaleas (Rhododendron canescens), the orange and yellow blooms of the flame azaleas will take over. Their fragrance is a much spicier one, but both the pink and orange blooms will attract butterflies to sip their sweet nectar.
About a month ago, Terry Johnson and sixteen dedicated volunteers conducted a prescribed burn of the Hillside Bog natural area. Their application of prescribed fire will promote a diverse spring growth of flowering species in that area. The Hillside Bog site is known for its extensive pitcher plant bog and high species diversity. Unusual plants such as club moss, bladderwort, sundew, sphagnum moss, and the diminutive parrot pitcher plants can be seen nestled among the pitcher plants.
Buckwheat tree (Cliftonia monophylla) is a native plant that glows at the bog in the spring. This large evergreen shrub or small tree could be appreciated simply for its glossy, leathery leaves and ability to thrive in wet areas that other plants would not tolerate. But in the spring, fragrant white blooms cover the plant in great abundance. Those who see Cliftonia for the first time are appropriately impressed, and seasoned native plant fans who have visited Hillside Bog have commented that the shrubs are some of the most stunning they have seen. Such praise adds to the many reasons to include this little-known but very attractive native plant in your garden.
Cliftonia grow in peaty or sandy soils found along streams, ditches, and well-drained, acidic bogs along the southeastern coastal plain such as the Arboretum’s Hillside Bog property. It will flower most abundantly in full sun. However, it will also grow in the shade of other trees, although the flowers will not be as dense. At the Arboretum it can be seen on the Pond Journey near the Cypress Cove deck, where it graces both sides of the pathway. Passing through the tall green tunnel of the buckwheat trees, it is a treat to see and smell its delightful white bloom sprays which stand out in contrast to the deep green leaves. In the fall, the sprays transform, displaying the characteristic three-sided seeds which resemble buckwheat seed, hence the common name of this plant.
Several excellent opportunities for the public to learn more about Mississippi’s native plants are right about the corner, so mark your calendars beginning with Friday, April 5 at 11:00 a.m., when MSU Area Horticulture Extension Agent Wayne Porter will discuss how to use wildflowers in the landscape. Dr. Porter will cover some of the more widely adapted species, site selection, when and how to establish wildflowers, and how to maintain them.
On Saturday, April 6 at 10 a.m., Author Dr. Charles Allen will speak on “Edible and Useful Plants of the Gulf South”, the Crosby Arboretum Lecture Series to be held at the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library. Dr. Allen has written many books and publications on our Gulf Coast natives, and will provide an entertaining, hands-on program on edible plants, which will include inviting the audience to sample a variety of plants, teas, and spices.
In the afternoon of April 6, following Dr. Allen’s morning presentation, Longue Vue House & Gardens, New Orleans will partner with Crosby Arboretum for a field walk led by Dr. Allen at the Arboretum’s Hillside Bog natural area, located about ten minutes east of the Arboretum. The walk will be led by Dr. Allen along with Longue Vue Wild Garden’s Tyrone Foreman, Marc Pastorek of Pastorek Habitats, and Crosby Arboretum’s grounds manager, Terry Johnson. If you would like to attend the field walk, please call Longue Vue to register prior to the event at the number provided below.
One of the most delightful days this year will be the Arboretum’s Strawberries & Cream Festival, which will be held on the lovely Pinecote Pavilion on Sunday, April 7 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. The Pavilion is recognized as a Mississippi Landmark by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. We invite you to bring the family and join us in celebrating the history of the old strawberry farm. Ice cream, fresh strawberries, and Picayune Frog Lemonade will be served. Site admission to Strawberries & Cream is free, so please take advantage of this opportunity to bring a friend and explore our grounds. Walk north and pay a visit our beautiful Gum Pond Educational Exhibit. If you look south, you will see where the Swamp Forest Educational Exhibit ties into the lower edge of the Gum Pond.
For more information, visit our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. Come check out the plants blooming now on our site, and to learn more about how to use them in your home landscape. Search our Plant Data Base listed on our website’s home page. We also carry a selection of MSU Extension Service publications that can help you in your home garden. To access this information online, visit www.MSUcares.com.
Programs are generally $5 for non-members and free to Crosby Arboretum members. For more information, or to sign up for the programs, please call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311. To register for the Hillside Bog field walk, please call Hilairie Schackai at Longue Vue House and Gardens at 504-293-4726 or email@example.com or
The Crosby Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: What is biodiversity? What does it mean to say that a landscape is “sustainable”? Read about the areas of focus for the Sustainable Sites Initiative at www.sustainablesites.org.