By Patricia Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum/MSU Extension Service
The Picayune Item
PICAYUNE — A whole new and entertaining world has popped up outside our Visitor Center. Perhaps you’ve paid us a visit and noticed that several pools have appeared near our back steps. No, they are not for swimming, as our summer nature campers recently conjectured. And I’m sure the water bodies have been quite tempting to our staff and volunteers who must work outdoors in the summer temperatures, as they must pass them by on their way into the building.
No, we’re not gearing up to sell tadpoles, as others have teasingly inquired after noticing that new life has shown up in the water. Children enjoy studying the frogs that perch on the edges of the pools, the obvious source of the wiggling tadpoles in the water.
The secret is officially out - these pools will be providing a temporary home for the plant material for our upcoming Aquatic Plant Sale, to be held on the morning of
ut two weeks before the plant sale, an incredible new world was born.
As Grounds Manager Terry Johnson began filling the pools a few days ago with the aquatic plants that have been propagated for the sale, an amazing process began to unfold. As the pools turned green and fluffy, the insect life followed closely behind.
On a walk past the pools, one’s attention is now diverted by a hoard of darting dragonflies. While they may light for a split second on a leaf or stem, they will quickly become airborne again. Their rapid movements cause the area to vibrate with life. What beauty is unfurling here, day by day.
During a pause on the steps to chat with Arboretum volunteer Amy LeMein, we stop in mid-sentence to observe a yellow swallowtail butterfly searching for a puddle in the gravel where it can rest and sip. Excitedly, we switch our topic to a discussion of the various shrubs blooming in our exhibits, such as buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), currently proving irresistible to butterflies and bees.
The process of watching our plant sale area come alive reminded me of the other extraordinary changes we’ve observed over the past few years in our Gum Pond Exhibit. If you have not yet ventured to the north end of our site and visited this “secret garden” nestled in the woods, you are in for a treat. Look southward from the Gum Pond’s landing to see the beautiful new trail recently constructed by the crew assisting Eagle Scout candidate Dominic McConnell of Picayune Troop 351. Although the new pathway is currently cordoned off to foot traffic, we are eagerly anticipating the construction of two bridges that will span the stream channel.
Mississippi State University architecture and landscape students are planning to assist with this bridge construction in the fall. One day soon, it will be possible to make a complete loop around the Gum Pond. Another bridge will cross the Gum Pond’s “panhandle”, in the area that served as the construction entrance during the pond’s excavation in October 2010.
Our Gum Pond transformed from a lifeless, muddy puddle to the bustling, vibrant ecosystem you see today. Leaves decayed in the water, water-loving insects moved in, and new plant life developed, adding a “fringe” to the once-exposed soil at the water’s edge. Tracks of raccoon and fox appeared in the soft mud, paralleling the pond. Whips of swamp gum (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora) planted in and around the pond by Arboretum volunteers, including Master Gardeners and 4-H youth groups, have recently undergone a growth spurt.
Another aquatic-oriented Scout project took place recently. A crew led by Eagle Scout candidate Michael Kimmick of Picayune Troop 5 performed the mechanical removal of invasive plant material in our Piney Woods Pond, primarily alligator weed. We are grateful to have the Scout groups that provide us valuable assistance with our site maintenance and exhibit construction.
Have you ever had the opportunity to observe a piece of land evolve from bare earth to new life? This can be a fun project for schoolchildren at home for the summer. Find an area that has undergone radical change, for example, a fire, or removal of vegetation or timber. What species might have been growing here prior to the change? What plants, insects, and animals appear in the area over time?
Mark your calendar for the Crosby Arboretum’s Aquatic Plant Sale on , from . Site admission is free this day, so bring your family and enjoy a walk on the grounds.
We’ll have many non-invasive water plants for your garden, including hardy water lilies, cow lily, blue flag iris, spider lilies, lizard’s tail and more. We are particularly pleased to have a bumper crop of native Texas star hibiscus this year! We’ll also have some water-loving trees such as water hickory, swamp chestnut oak, and bald cypress. Most of these plants have been propagated from our exhibits.
Teachers and homeschool educators will enjoy our upcoming Project Wild workshops. A very special workshop using migratory birds to teach core curriculum called “Flying Wild” will be held on . The course includes the Flying Wild teacher’s manual: An Educator's Guide to Celebrating Birds. On , a second teacher’s workshop will be offered called “Wild About Black Bears and Endangered Species”. Both workshops will be facilitated by Mississippi Museum of Natural Science outreach educator Crystie Baker and are free to educators who live or work in Pearl River County and Hancock County.
For more information or to sign up, visit www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.ed
For further exploration:
For more information on aquatic landscaping, visit www.MSUcares.com and enter “Creating Water Features in the Landscape” in the search field, to read the informative article by our former Crosby Arboretum curator Bob Brzuszek. Read about creating water gardens ranging from the size of a whisky barrel to a pond of several acres.