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Arbo Paths: Patterns found in nature never cease to delight!

Are you the kind of person who never misses an opportunity to take delight in the shapes and patterns of nature? There are many sights that one can encounter on a drive through this county which rival the most famous works of art hanging in a museum.

One day last week, for example, on my morning drive I rounded the curve in the road before turning into our service entrance. Across from our driveway in the vacant lot, tall meadow grasses were draped in hundreds of spider webs decorated with diamonds of morning dew that caught the early rays of the sun. What a sight!

Another type of spider web can be seen in the dew on foggy mornings, that of the bowl and doily spider. Have you ever noticed these webs? If your answer is “no” to this question, I would bet that you have passed them many times. The next morning we have heavy dew, keep your eyes peeled and see if you can pick out these interesting webs in the grasses or tree branches. Get up close to the web and search for the small spiders, which live underneath the first web in wait for visitors landing in the “bowl” above them.

Turning onto our half-mile driveway to the Visitor Center, I often see many of these bowl and doily webs in the tips of the smaller pine trees or the grasses lining the road. On dry days, thousands of webs can be seen carpeting the forest floor, built among the pine needle “duff”, covered in a layer of dust revealing their otherwise unseen structure.

The circular webs of the spiny orb weavers are quite large compared to the tiny spiders that sit at the center waiting for a meal. Search the Web for the incredible diversity of these spiders. Some have spines that are very long, and others look like they would be perfectly camouflaged sitting on a rose stem, with their thorn-like protrusions.
Something new always seems to catch my eye along our service road. Last week, I did a double-take when I spotted the plump fruit hanging from an American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) tree. Over the past few weeks it has been a treat to see the huge clusters of bright yellow swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) emerging along the roadside. This is a popular plant for youngsters for pick for bouquets, and is a carefree perennial for the home landscape.

When I was a youngster living in another part of the South where snow and cold weather were typical in the winter months, I would enjoy the mornings when I would awaken to find fern-like patterns that Jack Frost had “painted” on my windowpane. You have no idea what I’m referring to? Visit an Internet search engine and enter the keywords “fern frost on windowpane”. Did you look closely at the patterns of snowflakes as a child, pondering that no two snowflakes were supposed to be alike? It was mind-boggling as a child to consider how much snow there was, not only in my neighborhood but all over the word.

During my early years in landscape architecture classes, we would spend weeks in the studio, intensely focused on our projects. To decompress, we would take a much-welcomed drive in the county. Here, our bleary eyes would marvel at the incredible patterns we saw along the roadsides – the drifts of colors and textures woven together in a perfect, pleasing harmony. How was it possible, we lamented, to design something on paper that would come close to the beauty we saw before us? Patterns in nature are certainly a starting point, offering us a guide of effortless grace that we can strive to attain in the design of our own landscapes.

A family program on bats will be offered October 25 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. Learn about bat biology and ecology, research and conservation on Mississippi bats, state species, and ways to attract and keep bats around your property. That afternoon, we will hold our annual children’s Painted Pumpkins workshop. One pumpkin will be provided per child; however, you are welcome to bring more pumpkins for decorating. Fee for members’ children is $4, and $6 for non-members’ children.

For more information, see www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu or call 601-799-2311. The Arboretum is openWednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located in Picayune, off I-59, Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Engage a child, and embark on a journey to find patterns in nature. Help them to begin a sketchbook where they can make a record of the patterns they find.

By Patricia Drackett