By Patricia Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum/MSU Extension Service
The Picayune Item
On our daily drive down the Arboretum’s half mile service road, we sometimes notice a stray wildflower blooming among the occasional fringe of wispy bluestem grass. It might be a lone pink meadow beauty (Rhexia), seemingly having escaped the nearby meadow. While this may at first seem out of place, such plants have actually found a happy niche containing the conditions it requires to take root and flourish, although it might only be for a decade or so, until the surrounding tree canopy become dense, and crowds out the sunlight that these savanna species prefer.
Right now, our Savanna Exhibit is lush with new summer growth. There has been a recent explosion of flowering perennials, such as bog yelloweyed grass (Xyris). On a walk through the Pitcher Plant Bog, you can see hundreds of these tall thin stems topped with yellow flowers on sphere-shaped heads. It is quite a sight. And when the delicate yellow petals fall, the heads resemble tiny cones and take on a different look entirely.
Another thin-stemmed flower is called lady’s hatpin (Eriocaulon). Also called pipewort or bog buttons, this unusual flower is found in great profusion in the Savanna Exhibit, which gives the meadow the appearance of being a swaying sea of polka dots. The orange-red blooms of the few flower milkweed (Asclepias) is also conspicuously held high upon stems that are three to four feet in height.
When you consider the high density of plant species found in these wet pine savanna habitats, including the abundant grasses, a flower held high on a thin stem and waving an enticing hello to passing butterflies is quite an advantageous design. And it’s a picture perfect sight to see a butterfly perched on the bloom of few flower milkweed. If we can spot these blazingly bright flowers at a great distance, you can imagine that butterflies are doing the same thing.
Flowers in the grasslands range from the tall to the tiny. Five species of petite candy root (Polygala) are common along our pathways. They are found in shades of pink, white, purple, yellow and orange. Typically ranging from around two to six inches tall, these plants are also called milkworts or drumheads. They also have unusually shaped blooms that are attractive to butterflies such as skippers that sip their nectar, and are called candy root because the roots have an aroma like wintergreen candy.
Another diminutive late summer perennial seen along the trails is the pineland rayless goldenrod (Bigelowia). Although it is has the appearance of a goldenrod, it is actually in the Aster family. The branching structure of this plant has a delicate appearance.
On a recent whirlwind tour of the Arboretum grounds on our cart, I spotted several lavender blooms of Stoke’s aster (Stokesia). While many of the plants seen in the Savanna Exhibit may be best suited for growing in this wet, acidic soil, Stoke’s aster is a perennial that will do quite well in a much dryer, typical bed in the home garden.
Many of Mississippi’s wildflowers are at home in hot, wet environments such as our Savanna Exhibit, or in dry soil. If you have an area of your property that is difficult to garden in a traditional manner, you may want to consider letting it go a “little bit wild”. Allow it to grow up and see what develops, or sprinkle in a wildflower mix designed for our region.
For an excellent guide to wildflowers, visit www.MSUcares.com, the MSU Extension website, and search the Publications (the top menu, to the far right) for Publication No. 1709, “Wildflowers for Mississippi Meadows and Gardens”. Topics such as planting times, soil preparation, seed mixes, and weed control are covered. Lists of perennials and annuals that re-seed for sunny meadows are included, and perennials that are suited for sunny wet areas.
If you’re a fan of wildflowers, you’ll enjoy reading through the many articles on the Extension website. Enter the key word “wildflowers” in the search field to learn more about the many species of Mississippi wildflowers for your garden, including growing tips on the best time to seed a wildflower garden (September through November).
Near the moist woodland edges of the trail that borders our Savanna Exhibit, you can find large clusters of a shrub called titi (Cyrilla), which have been flowering since the beginning of summer. The plant has long, white and fragrant flower clusters, and although this plant tolerates many types of wet areas, it also will grow in the dryer areas of your garden. If you have room for it to grow and would like establish an informal, natural area or screen, this plant is a great choice. It is also a good shrub for beginners because it is easy to propagate, and spreads by suckers.
Want to learn more about the plants you will see on a walk through the Arboretum? At the bottom of the Crosby Arboretum home page, you will find a link to “Bloom Times. Also on this page you can find several links to information on plants that will be magnets for butterflies and hummingbirds.
Good websites to research more about the native plants currently in bloom in our area are www.SoutheasternFlora.com, and the Crosby Arboretum Plant Data Base on our website’s home page.
For further exploration:
Print the current month of the Crosby Arboretum’s “Bloom Time” list, and bring it to the Arboretum. How many of these can you find on a walk through the grounds?