By Patricia Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum/MSU Extension Service
The Picayune Item
PICAYUNE — On their recent tour, fifth grade students from Lamar Christian School in Purvis encountered a seemingly endless variety of wildlife, ranging from crawfish to inchworms, to writhing masses of spiny, newly-emerged caterpillars. There is no such thing as a “typical” walk around the Arboretum’s Pond Journey and Pitcher Plant Bog. Every venture reveals something new to every group of visitors. A spider on a silken thread bobs in front of us in the center of the pathway. We thrill to the exquisite song of a wood thrush that is nesting in the nearby trees. Turtles splash into the water, startled by the shouts and footsteps of approaching children. The tube-shaped leaves of the yellow pitcher plants are glowing in the south savanna. Children excitedly peer inside the hollow leaves looking for treasures. At this early time of year, not many insects have accumulated in the bottom of the “pitchers”. But don’t worry, it won’t be long until the bugs begin to pile up. Soon, the pink blossoms of pink meadow beauty (Rhexia spp.) will join the pitcher plants. Three species of Rhexia are found in the savannas. Yellow beauty (Rhexia lutea) will explode in a month or so, mixing with the pink species. Several species of milkweed are also found in the south pitcher plant bog. Fewflower milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata) is also called red milkweed. Its flowers are held high on thin stems, bright orange-red dots floating atop the surrounding grasses. The plant has increased in numbers over the past few years. You will have to look closely to spot the longleaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia). This plant has clusters of many small purple blooms each reminiscent of a badminton shuttlecock and is one of the images featured on our website’s homepage. It is inconspicuous among the other bright colors of the bog, and only grows to about two feet. Skippers and other butterflies sip nectar from its wide flower clusters. Over fifty species of native orchids are found in Mississippi. Many of these grow in boggy areas in our coastal counties. The Arboretum contains several species of these bog orchids in the savannas, such as the pale grass pink orchid (Calopogon pallidus) and grass pink (C. tuberosus). These orchids get their names from their thin, grass-like leaves. The unusual blooms of rosebud orchids (Cleistes divaricate) were sighted in the south bog last year. This flower has three unusual brownish sepals held above pink drooping spetals. Rose pogonia orchid (Pogonia ophioglossoides), also known as snake mouth orchid,grows in the Arboretum’s acidic, boggy soils. These orchids are a beautiful rose pink color, with the throat of the bloom’s lower lip being densely bearded. It is sweetly scented, and pollinated by bees. Ladies’ tresses orchid (Spiranthes) has also been recorded in our savanna. Its flowers are small and white, and do not stand out among the grasses and other herbaceous plants, quite easy to walk past. The flowersoften have a distinctive spiral form up the stem. In addition to the bog orchids, the Arboretum also has epiphytic (found in trees) and aquatic species. Not all orchids are easily grown in the home garden. Because of their beauty, they are sometimes victims of gardeners who will collect them from the wild and attempt to establish them in a home landscape. Like the fate of many beautiful and rare wildflowers found in the Smoky Mountains, such as pink lady’s slipper orchid, many of these plants soon die due to being planted into areas which lack the specific conditions they need. Certain orchid species, which grow among the grasses and perennials found in coastal wet pine savannas, have become adapted to fire. Such areas also typically have extremely high numbers of plant species present. Over the course of a year, it is astonishing to watch as our meadows change in color from yellow to pink and back to yellow, purple, or sometimes covered in white polka dots. The hues and textures in the bog are certainly ever-changing. The prescribed burning we use as a management tool in the Savanna Exhibit does not harm the root systems of the plants found in these areas. The hot fire burns the grasses and plants above, and root systems remain protected below the soil. Nutrient-rich ash is deposited by the fire and stimulates new growth. Seeds germinate, and plants grow quickly in the open spaces and on the bare earth revealed by fire events. Any questions on the species that are adapted to live in areas that experience periodic fire will be answered by Sue Wilder, Regional Fire Ecologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who will lead a spring field walk at the Arboretum on Friday, May 3 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sue will talk about the ecology of these habitats and how plants and animals, such as the gopher tortoise, have adapted to live in these environments. Learn more about the Arboretum’s orchids, and our coastal orchid species on Saturday, May 4 from 10 to 11 a.m. in a presentation by Glen Ladnier, long-time orchid enthusiast and member of the Gulf Coast Orchid Society. Glen will talk about the habitats, plant and flower characteristics, and conservation techniques. There will be an optional field trip offered in the afternoon. Members may attend both programs for free. Program admission is $5 for non-members and $2 for non-members’ children. A children’s program celebrating Mother’s Day is scheduled for Saturday, May 11 at 10 a.m. Decorate a terra cotta pot as a gift for Mom in this “Painted Pots” craft workshop. For more information on specific events, or to sign up for a program, please visit www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu, or call (601) 799-2311.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: Take a look on the Internet to see images of the native orchid species found at the Crosby Arboretum. One place to start is our Plant Data Base that is linked on the Arboretum’s home page.