By Patricia Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum/MSU Extension Service
The Picayune Item
With the recent explosion of spring green, and a constant parade of blooms, another act is about to begin. Yes, after the flowers, we’ll be looking forward to the magnificent bounty of native fruits that will follow.
Blueberries, mayhaws, and muscadines are only a few of the popular native fruits that stir up visions of homemade jams and jellies, pies, muffins, and more. Muscadines were the first cultivated grape in North America, and they have long been enjoyed by Native Americans and European settlers of this country. You may have heard them referred to as “Scuppernongs”. This was the earliest named variety, found growing wild in northeastern North Carolina near the Scuppernong River in the early 1800’s. It is a light golden grape, and prized for producing a sweet wine.
Muscadines have high nutritional value, and are a rich source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Plus, they simply taste and smell heavenly! Would you like to know the secrets of selecting and growing muscadines? Just visit the MSU Extension website at www.MSUcares.com and enter “muscadines” into the search field, and you’ll soon possess a wealth of information that you can apply in your home landscape.
Extension Publication 2990, “Establishment and Production of Muscadine Grapes”, provides facts on the history and culture of the fruit, including trellis construction, cultivars, and insect and disease control. This publication includes a table of muscadine cultivars evaluated at the Mississippi State University Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station located south of McNeil on Highway 11. A famous muscadine field day is held at this unit in late summer. At this free event, sampling is encouraged. The public will learn which varieties of muscadines are best for juice and which are best for eating, as well as the cultivars best for growing in the home landscape.
Our mayhaw tree near the Children’s Garden has been putting on some gorgeous blooms. In a month or two, we hope to be get to its tart fruit before the birds do. Mayhaws are native to the southeastern United States, and found in swampy areas. The tree is thorny and the flowers look similar to blackberry blossoms, because these two species are related – both are in the Rose family. A signpost near the Visitor Center gives a recipe for mayhaw jelly, delicious for topping hot homemade biscuits.
A few days ago, I noticed berries were forming on one of my favorite plants here at the Arboretum, the Elliott’s blueberry. It won’t be long until children are standing under the lacy bushes plucking the sweet, small berries. Right now, there are still a few flowers mixed in with the berries, busily being worked by bees.
On a recent field walk, state botanist Heather Sullivan commented that she prefers using these tiny Elliott’s blueberries in her pancakes because they cook much better than the larger commercial varieties that are much wetter and can create a messier pancake. Elliott’s blueberries also have very small seeds, making them just perfect for eating.
We’re not the only ones who look to native plants as a food source. This Saturday, April 6, author Dr. Charles Allen will be the featured speaker for the Crosby Arboretum Lecture Series at the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library, presenting “Edible and Useful Plants of the Gulf South”. Dr. Allen has written many books and publications on our Gulf Coast natives, including the edible plants. >From 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. he will provide an entertaining, hands-on program on edibles, and will invite the audience to sample a variety of plants, teas, and spices. Dr. Allen’s books and plants will be available at the presentation.
On Sunday, April 7, you are invited to the Crosby Arboretum Strawberries & Cream festival, to be held on the lovely Pinecote Pavilion from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Site admission, and the event, are free to the public. The festival celebrates our early history, as the site was once a Depression-era strawberry farm. The land’s owner, L.O. Crosby, Jr. turned his focus from timber production to experimental agriculture at a time when lumber was no longer in demand for construction. Records in the Arboretum’s archives indicate that our 64-acre interpretive site is only a portion of what was once a square mile (640 acres) of strawberry fields that stretched to the west across where the interstate is today.
Incidentally, Curator Richelle Stafne is hot on the trail of some heirloom varieties of strawberries that we are planning to include in our Children’s Garden area. Given our site’s history, we feel that this will be a fitting nod to the site’s past agricultural land use.
So please bring the family and join us to celebrate the history of the old strawberry farm. Ice cream, fresh strawberries, and Picayune Frog Lemonade will be served. Please take advantage of this opportunity to bring along a friend and explore our grounds. Walk north and pay a visit our beautiful new Gum Pond Educational Exhibit.
Would you like to know more about Mississippi’s wildflowers and how to use them in your home garden? On Friday, April 5 at 11:00 a.m., MSU Area Horticulture Extension Agent Wayne Porter will discuss some of the more widely adapted species, site selection, when and how to establish wildflowers, and how to maintain them.
Mark your calendar for the Arboretum’s Earth Day event on Saturday, April 27, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Visit stations focused on nature and sustainable gardening, and attend a program with MSU urban horticulturist Dr. Christine Coker on Edible Landscaping at 10:00 a.m.
Cost for most programs is $5 for non-members, and members attend free of charge. For more information, 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).