By Patricia Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum/MSU Extension Service
The Picayune Item
Picayune — Sweltering summer temperatures over the past week may have prompted many to head indoors for the cool air conditioning, but our Visitor Center doors continued to swing open, bringing both local visitors and those pausing on their interstate journey after spotting our signs.
Some walk-in visitors come seeking facts about a particular native plant. Others call us with their requests. Whether interested in a St. John’s wort (Hypericum) or paw paw trees (Asimina trilobata), we do our best to provide them with more information than they had before speaking with us.
The Crosby Arboretum website contains a link to our Plant Data Base. Here, you can see many photos, and read more about local native plants you may encounter. It is an excellent place to learn about what grows right outside your door.
One type of plant is not bothered by hot temperatures and is flourishing in the summer heat. Yes, aquatic species don’t require continual watering, because they are “standing” in it.
A walk around the Arboretum’s Aquatic Exhibit reveals a range of water depths and habitats supporting a variety of water-loving plants. Some grow in only a few inches of water. Others, like the yellow-blooming cow lily (Nuphar advena) may grow in depths of up to six feet.
The large floating leaves of cow lily sometimes cause the plant to be mistaken for water lily (Nymphaea odorata). However, the compact blooms of cow lily are quite different, and some might say, not as spectacular as fragrant water lily flowers. Both of these aquatic plants will be available at the Arboretum’s Aquatic Plant Sale this Saturday.
Visitors to the Aquatic Sale will find volunteers and staff members ready to provide advice on locating and growing the plants offered at the sale. Handouts from the MSU Extension Service on water plants will also be provided.
Several species of trees that tolerate wet areas, such as bald cypress, will be included in the sale. This is a fast-growing and beautiful tree with feathery, delicate leaves and a conical form. It is a nice addition to the landscape, particularly when arranged in groupings. If you have an area in your yard that tends to hold water, consider planting cypress trees with an underplanting of water-loving perennials.
Towering over one of our pools is a six foot tall native Texas star hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). Also called swamp hibiscus, or scarlet rose mallow, this plant has huge scarlet flowers. We believe that this giant will soon be providing inspiration to those considering the purchase of one of its “babies” below.
Both the red and white form (‘Alba’) of the Texas star hibiscus will be offered at the sale. Although this plant will usually die to the ground each year, it will quickly sprout back in spring. Locate one, or a cluster, in the rear of your bed, where it will be a stunning specimen and you will not notice when it dies back.
Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is a common herbaceous perennial found in shallow water or muddy areas. It has attractive purple-blue flower spikes and grows to around three feet. Deer will browse on this plant, and the fruit is eaten by water birds that also use the leaves for cover.
Outside the Visitor Center, there are several wide, shallow waterways filled with attractive native aquatic species such as golden club (Orontium aquaticum), American crinum lily (Crinum americanum), and blue flag iris (Iris virginica). In one shady ditch, we are keeping an eye out for the appearance of a very special plant, the water-spider orchid (Habenaria repens). You could easily pass right by this plant because its blooms are an inconspicuous white and green, which blends well with its surroundings.
Search the Web for a close up of the water-spider orchid, and you will see how it has earned its name. However, if you have a severe case of arachnophobia, the image of what appears to be dozens of small green spiders may not be a sight you want to be treated to. Water-spider orchid grows to about one to two feet. At night, its fragrant blooms attract the moths that function as pollinators.
Not only are the aquatic plants doing well in the small pools outside our Visitor Center, but the frogs, dragonflies, and butterflies are increasing in numbers. The chorus of frogs has been growing in volume each morning when we pass by on the way in to work. Coupled with the songs of several wood thrushes now inhabiting the surrounding woods, it is getting to be quite lively here.
Teachers and homeschool educators will enjoy our upcoming Project Wild workshop on Thursday, July 11, called “Wild About Black Bears and Endangered Species.” The workshop will be led by Mississippi Museum of Natural Science outreach educator Crystie Baker and is free to educators who live or work in Pearl River County and Hancock County. Mark your calendars for a program on “Native Plants and Fabulous Flowers” on Friday, July 12 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with LSU Horticulture Professor Dr. Allen Owings. On Saturday, July 13, an informative talk on hummingbirds will be offered by hummingbird bander James Bell of the Hummer/Bird Study Group, Inc. Learn all about how to fill your yard with these beautiful birds. Cost for these two programs is $5 each for non-members, and free to members.
For more information or to sign up, visit www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.ed
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION:
What might exist in that green layer of “pond scum?” Visit your local library or favorite Internet search engine with a child. Ask them what they might expect to find, and then make a list of what wonders you might see if you peered through a microscope at a pond water sample. If you are unable to find a microscope, you can visit a video search engine to find clips of people exploring the microscopic animals found in water samples.