The Savanna Exhibit is bursting into bloom at the Arboretum!

Published 1:04 am Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It takes a brave soul in the summer months to remain on the boardwalk in the Arboretum’s Pitcher Plant Bog for very long. But, your rewards will be great! Standing in the middle of this marvelous rolling sea of pitcher plants mixed with a rich diversity of grasses and perennials blooms – well, this is what Mississippi’s summer wildflowers are all about. Our bog will undergo many changes in color and texture throughout the summer months, and the past few weeks have offered some hints of what is to come. Come and experience the show!

At the Crosby Arboretum, we are aware that we face a considerable challenge of getting the local public excited about the natural wonders on display here. The majority of Pearl River County residents are living lives fully immersed in the rural views of fields and woodlands, and it is certainly understandable that at first thought it may not be appealing to visit a site that celebrates these habitats. However, the purpose of the Arboretum is to interpret – or explain – the landscape to its visitors. Many discoveries await you on our pathways, and we invite you to join the others who have come before you, who have enthusiastically expressed their pleasure and delight after finally deciding to stop in and see what we are all about.

So, what might you find out there on a stroll through our Savanna Exhibit? Currently, we have several species of meadow beauty (Rhexia) – both yellow and pink-blooming varieties. The yellow version (R. lutea) is a prolific bloomer with very showy flowers. Clusters of this plant are seen growing near the boardwalk in the Pitcher Plant Bog. Several pink species of Rhexia grow in our savannas, and are common throughout the coastal south. Pink meadow beauty is one of our dominant blooming plants in the summer months, and it turns large areas briefly into a pink sea. Children are fascinated by the urn-shaped fruit that looks like a small cream pitcher, that remains long after the flowers are gone.

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Red milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata) is one of the most striking flowering plants currently blooming in the Pitcher Plant Bog. The color is a flaming, eye-catching reddish-orange. This year we are excited to see three times the number of plants blooming than last spring! Also called few-flower milkweed, this plant has a very different appearance from its relative, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which is a common garden perennial used in butterfly gardens. Although red milkweed has a much smaller flower cluster, the blooms are held high above the surrounding grasses and perennials on unbranched stems and are so bright in color that they can be seen from a great distance. Like butterfly weed, red milkweed is a larval host plant for monarch butterflies. It is found in wet pinelands, moist savannas, roadsides, and bogs throughout the Coastal Plain, while butterfly weed is found in drier areas.

It is always a treat to see the large numbers of yellow pitcher plants (Sarracenia alata), a carnivorous plant common in our Pitcher Plant Bog. The leaves are tall, and form distinctive clusters in the bog. From the boardwalk, children are able to lean over the edge and peer inside the “pitchers” to see what they might have “caught”. So far, our dissections during school tours haven’t inspired a big “Yuk!” like the one we’ll hear a bit later on in the season, when the leaves become full of insects, but they are enough to sufficiently impress the crowds.

Our parrot pitcher plants (S. psittacina) have been on the increase, thanks to the installation of two truckloads of plants collected a few years ago from the future site of a shopping center in D’Iberville. The leaves of these tiny plants are held close to the ground, and are shaped like a helmet or parrot-head. Insects enter through tiny openings in the leaves. The leaf has fenestrations – lighter areas – on top of its “head” that function as “windows” and confuse trapped insects into thinking they can fly up to escape, but instead encounter a hard surface, falling to their doom below. In addition, downward facing hairs line the throats of these leaves (as on those of the yellow pitcher plants), and serve to direct the insects below, never to return!

Another carnivorous plant seen in the bog is the sundew (Drosera). This plant has red hair-covered leaves that glisten with “dewdrops” that will snare and dissolve small insects. Students on field trips have been amazed to find this tiny plant blooming. A half inch doesn’t sound like a big bloom, but when it is held upright on a single stem from a plant the size of a quarter – it’s huge!  

Take a walk to the Pitcher Plant Bog on Saturday after our 1p.m. blues performance with blues slide guitarist Kenny Brown and his band, who will entertain us with Mississippi Hill Country blues. Tickets are $10, and $6 for children under 12 (members are half price). A children’s Blues Art Workshop will be held at 10 a.m., cost is $4 (members’ children $2).  For more information, call the Arboretum office at (601) 799-2311, or visit for directions and site information. The Crosby Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is located in Picayune, off I -59 Exit 4, on Ridge Road (between Wal-Mart and I-59.)

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION:  Why are plants carnivorous? Make a list – how many carnivorous plants can you find that occur in Mississippi? Visit the Crosby Arboretum’s website, and go to their Plant Data Base to see how many of these plants are found at the Arboretum. Then visit the Pitcher Plant Bog to see them!