Arboretum Paths: Spring blooms continue at the Arboretum!

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A TIME TO BLOOM: Ashe’s magnolia blooms near the Arboretum’s Arrival Journey bridge. Photo by Pat Drackett

A TIME TO BLOOM: Ashe’s magnolia blooms near the Arboretum’s Arrival Journey bridge.
Photo by Pat Drackett

Patricia Drackett                                                                                                               Director, Crosby Arboretum/ MSU Extension

Every bend in the trail at the Arboretum seems to evoke a new “oooh” or “ah” as we discover new plants in bloom. Sometimes it even brings an “eek”, which probably scared the large bullfrog even more than he scared me, as he plopped into the water of the Slough Exhibit.

When the frog had made his hasty exit, I’d only been trying to get closer to the diminutive twinberry (Mitchella repens), also called partridge berry or pigeon plum, growing along the banks of the slough. This plant is a charming evergreen vining groundcover that thrives in shady locations such as under the live oaks to the left of our main entrance. Here, we recently spotted clusters of delicate pink downy phlox (Phlox pilosa) growing along the bed’s sunnier edges.

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Partridge berry reminds me of younger days and numerous botany treks in the Smoky Mountains. There, we called it deerberry. It’s a beautiful sight to come across dozens of the tiny white flowers, arranged in pairs along the stems. The ovaries of these two flowers fuse, resulting in one plump scarlet berry. Look closely to see the two dots that will remain on the berry as evidence of its origin. Fox, deer, and turkey are among the many animals who will feast on the berries.

Visit the Arboretum to see partridge berry in bloom, as it will be putting on a show for a few more weeks. If you can catch me in the office at the Visitor Center, I’d be happy to walk you a short distance to a secret garden where it is plentiful. You might even come across a bullfrog!

Not far from the partridge berry you will have a chance to see the breathtakingly beautiful blooms of the Ashe’s magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla subsp. ashei). This tree is a subspecies of the bigleaf magnolia, and is a small understory species, rarely growing taller than 20 feet. It has leaves up to two feet in length.

Although bigleaf magnolia can be found in Pearl River County woodlands, Ashe’s magnolia only occurs in eight counties in the Florida panhandle. Considered an Endangered Species, it is cultivated and is a tree species in demand at native nurseries and our plant sales.

Ashe’s magnolia flowers when it is only three or four years old, much earlier than bigleaf magnolia, which takes a few more years to produce a bloom. Both trees prefer a rich, moist, and well-drained soil, in the understory of other trees.

Visitors continue to inquire in our office about the shrub with arching branches tipped by long white flower spikes, common along the water’s edge in the Aquatic Exhibit. This plant is Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), a deciduous shrub with a graceful, sprawling form in shady areas. Itea has a more compact growth habit, and more flowers, in sunnier locations.

In the fall, Virginia sweetspire has gorgeous burgundy and scarlet color. It is a good choice for consistently wet areas, but also does well in a regular garden bed. Provide supplemental water in times of drought or very dry soils.

Want to learn more about what Mississippi natives are blooming in May? May 17 will bring two field walk opportunities. From 9:00 to 11:00 a.m., Marc Pastorek will open his Meadowmakers Seed Farm, featuring a walk through fifty different seeding experiments from local provenance, wild-collected seed, along with State Botanist Heather Sullivan. The walk is open to Mississippi and Louisiana Native Plant Society members, Crosby Arboretum members, and interested public. State botanist Heather Sullivan will also be attending. There is no charge for the walk. Meet at 9:00 a.m. at Meadowmakers Seed Farm, 65 Fox Run North, Carriere, MS. For more information, call (504) 296-8162 or contact

Then, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., The Crosby Arboretum will offer a walk at their Hillside Bog natural area, a highly diverse 70 acre habitat in northern Hancock County, along with Heather Sullivan, Marc Pastorek, and the Arboretum’s certified burn manager, Terry Johnson, who maintains the bog. This event is free to Native Plant Society and Arboretum members. Meet at Crosby Arboretum Visitor Parking Area to carpool to the site. Prepare for off-trail trek and potential underbrush. Cost for non-members is $5.

An Arboretum botany walk will be conducted on May 31 by Dr. Mac Alford, Herbarium Curator and Associate Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

For more details or to sign up for a program, call the Arboretum office at (601) 799-2311, or visit We are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59, Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).



Visit the Crosby Arboretum home page and select the Native Plant Data Base for photos and more information about the above plants.