Arbo Paths: The Arboretum’s winter burn season approaches

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Arboretum’s prescribed fire season takes place each winter in January and February. Crosby Arboretum archive photo

The Arboretum’s prescribed fire season takes place each winter in January and February. Crosby Arboretum archive photo

Even during the winter months, the Arboretum is full of beauty. Take a walk through our grounds on a chilly day and you will soon be warmed up and enjoying the many natural wonders along the pathways. In the Savanna Exhibit, although the pitcher plant clusters have turned a tawny brown, every now and then you may notice a small green “pitcher” unfolding among the crown of brown leaves.

Dark green rough-leaf sunflower rosettes, with leaves that feel just like a cat’s tongue, are carpeting the soil in the south Pitcher Plant Bog. Delicate, feathery plumes of panic grass (Panicum virgatum) line the edges of the nearby trail, towering over the heads of passers-by. Hundreds of spent flower heads of yellow-eyed grass, looking like tiny pine cones, are held high on delicate stems, forming patterns across the savanna.

Last week, a group of Roseland Park Elementary fourth, fifth, and sixth grade gifted students saw these sights and more on a field trip through the Woodland and Savanna Exhibits, exploring the ethnobotanical uses of native plants. The students asked questions about the Arboretum and its activities and took notes as part of their project focusing on a study of local businesses and the economic benefits they provide to the city. They will create a tourism advertisement for Picayune as the final activity for their project, funded by a grant from the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation.

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Soon, we told the students, a prescribed burn will be conducted in the area they toured in our Pitcher Plant Bog. If they return in a few weeks, they will see the area looking quite different, blackened by fire. Every year, we apply fire to the bog, which contributes to its high botanical diversity. Other areas of the property may be burned only every two or three years.

The Arboretum uses fire as a tool to manage our exhibits. The grasses and perennials found in our savannas are “fire-adapted”, meaning they have the ability to withstand periodic fires. Applying regular controlled fire in our savannas reduces the growth of small trees and maintains the herbaceous plants and allows our visitors to experience an example of a coastal landscape as it would have appeared prior to European settlement.

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) have a stately, candelabra-like structure form when young, and you can see examples of the trees at a variety of stages of growth in our Savanna Exhibit. It would have been such a sight to see forests of these mature trees hundreds of years ago. Longleaf pine forests once totaled more than 90 million acres along the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains. Even when John Muir made his walk through the southeast in the 1860’s, these forests were already disappearing. Today only about three percent of this ecosystem remains.

This past Saturday, longleaf pine needles were certainly put to good use in the basket-making workshop led by Stone County Extension Agent Dr. Judy Breland. More than forty persons attended the program, and learned techniques to carry on this heritage craft and to truly “make something from nothing”.

Prescribed burn demonstrations will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays in January and February if the environmental conditions are favorable. Assist with, or observe fire management techniques during the prescribed burning of the Crosby Arboretum’s savanna areas. If you are interested in assisting with a burn, call the office at 601-799-2311 and ask for Terry Johnson. Please call prior to coming out to the Arboretum to confirm that the event will be proceeding. Admission is free for arboretum members and $5 for non-members. Persons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Prepare for spring gardening projects in “Home Landscape Design Jambalaya” at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 24, at 10:00 a.m. with Senior Curator Jill Mirkovich and Director Pat Drackett. Call to sign up now and take an armchair journey of gardening and design ideas and practices to inspire you to action. A pot of jambalaya will be served! At 1:00 p.m., a field walk of the Arboretum grounds will take place. Cost for either program is $5 for non-members. Members attend free.

On Saturday, January 31, make plans to come to Forge Day for blacksmithing and metalworking demonstrations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Some exhibitors will have handmade items available for purchase. Cost for this event is $5 for adults and $2 for children under 12. Members attend free.

The Arboretum is open Wednesdays through Sundays 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 more information, call the office at(601) 799-2311 or see our website at

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Visit the MSU Extension website at to download publication 2283, “Prescribed Burning in Southern Pine Forests”. For more information, enter the keywords “prescribed fire” in the search engine of the MSUcares home page.

By Patricia Drackett