Arbo Paths; Field walks offer botanical learning opportunities  

Published 10:40 am Friday, August 8, 2014

Last Saturday, Dr. Wayne Morris, Associate Professor of Biology at Troy University in Troy, Alabama, led a field walk to the Arboretum’s Hillside Bog natural area. Although we didn’t encounter any of the anticipated pine lilies, the group thoroughly enjoyed seeing the wide variety late summer wildflowers, including the discovery of around sixty yellow fringeless orchids (Platanthera integra).


Hillisde Bog is a 70 acre site in north Hancock County and is one of the most spectacular of the Arboretum’s natural areas. The area was created by a perched water-table. Percolating through the sandy soil on the hilltop, the water encounters a highly impermeable clay subsoil. The water flows along the subsoil and emerges along the edge of the slope. Within a few feet, the soil changes from being dry (xeric) to water-saturated (hydric) because of the seepage.  This change in physical characteristics of the  environment forces a change in vegetation, and plants not adapted to wet soils must avoid the seepage and plants that are not adapted to the xeric conditions must avoid the dry upland.

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Out in the bog are a number of plant species that are found only along the Coastal Plain, including pitcher plants (Sarracenia), sundews (Drosera), hatpins (Eriocaulon), and a number of orchids, grasses, and lilies.These bog areas have some of the greatest number of species per meter of anywhere in the world, over 40 species per meter!


Dr. Morris worked for the Crosby Arboretum during the summer of 1986 as a Mississippi State University graduate student of Dr. Sidney McDaniel, MSU Professor of Botany. He assisted in conducting inventories of the plant species growing at the Arboretum property and its associated natural areas as a basis for developing the future exhibits.


At the time Wayne and other botanists were collecting their specimens in the 1980s, the local community may have been curious about what was taking place at this 64-acre parcel located on Ridge Road. It was during this time period that the foundation work for developing the site into a public garden was occurring, conducted by a group of highly dedicated and very knowledgeable individuals.


Today, thirty years later, we had the opportunity to have one of these talented persons among us, providing a window to understanding the plants that grow at the bog, and in our region. Dr. Morris gave thorough answers for the questions posed. Later, we delighted in haring his stories of the early days spent botanizing for the Arboretum, including how Dr. McDaniel served to inspire Wayne, along with a generation of graduate students, to pursue careers in botany.


Standing out in the bog, and considering that we only had a few hours of being subjected to the summer sun, it was easy to gain a new appreciation for those who experience these conditions daily while performing their work, fueled by their passion for plants. State botanist Heather Sullivan accompanied us on our walk, and is another of these dedicated “walking botanical encyclopedias”.


Heather regularly dons her snake boots to explore Mississippi wilds on her search for new specimens to record on the state lists. She noted one such specimen at Hillside Bog on Saturday – a cluster of LeConte’s thistle (Cirsium lecontei). This species is found in wet pinelands and seepage slopes in the Coastal Plain, and holds its flowers high on slender stems.


Dr. Morris provided detailed information about the plants we encountered. The group learned how to tell the difference between winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), which both grow in the bog. The autumn fruits of winged sumac have been used to make a lemonade drink, and has a history of other uses by Native Americans. He pointed out that nitrogen-fixing legume species were occurring on the upper portion of the sloping site, but the carnivorous plant species which grew in the lower, nitrogen-deficient portions of the bog had developed the ability to absorb nitrogen by digesting the proteins from the insects that fall victim to their alluring scents.


We look forward to future opportunities to explore the Arboretum and its natural areas, from both a botanical perspective and from a gardening approach that reveals the ways to incorporate these Mississippi native plants into the landscape. A program on edible plants with Darla Pastorek will be held on Saturday, August 23, and an Arboretum wildflower walk will be held Saturday, August 30  


An “Introduction to Fly Tying” workshop designed for youth will be offered Saturday, August 16 from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. by Crosby Arboretum volunteer and fly fisherman Will Sullivan, who will teach how to use simple, inexpensive materials such as flipflop foam, thread, and rubber bands to create flies to catch fish. All materials and equipment will be provided. The class is limited to only five participants, and best suited to ages 9 to 14. Parent or guardian is required. Materials fee is $2 for members, and $4 for non-members. Call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311 to sign up for this program. The Arboretum is 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).

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Enter the keywords “botanists are disappearing” into your favorite search engine to read about this subject.


By Patricia Drackett