Arbo paths: Oh, those glorious winter blooms!

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, February 4, 2015

he tiny and delicate bell-shaped blooms of Elliot’s Blueberry, a Mississippi native shrub, are currently unfurling along the Arboretum’s pathways. Photo by Patricia Drackett

he tiny and delicate bell-shaped blooms of Elliot’s Blueberry, a Mississippi native shrub, are currently unfurling along the Arboretum’s pathways.
Photo by Patricia Drackett

Yes, you heard that right! On a cart ride through the Arboretum this past week, grounds manager Terry Johnson and I discussed the plants we’d seen blooming recently, and even spotted a few new ones on our journey.

One of the earliest plants to bloom is the Elliott’s blueberry (Vaccinium Elliotii), also known as mayberry. Some call all of the native blueberries collectively “huckleberries”, but there are a number of different species. Elliot’s blueberry can grow to be a large shrub, perhaps 10 to 12 feet in height, and has a delicate and lacy appearance, composed of many small green twigs. Right now the branches are lined with hundreds of tiny deep rose-colored buds just beginning to open, revealing light pink, bell-like blooms.

What a treat these flowers make for any bees that happen to be buzzing by! You must look closely to notice the small blooms, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with a chance to marvel at the subtle beauty of this Mississippi native shrub.

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On our ride, Terry was excited to report he had already spotted the yellow and white bloom spikes of golden club emerging from the shallow water near our Arrival Journey bridge crossing the Slough Exhibit near the visitor center. It won’t be long before this entire area will be sporting these unusual bloom spikes. Golden club will also grow in saturated soil as well as in shallow water, in sun or part shade. The leaves have a wax-like surface that causes water to bead on the surface, earning this plant another common name, “neverwet”

Terry asked me to guess what else he had spotted, and in a few seconds’ time we were stopped at in front of a gloriously flowering red maple tree in our front parking lot, my first of the coming spring season. Not all red maples will flower at the same time. In the weeks to come, we will enjoy the few early bloomers making the scene, but as the winter days lengthen and temperatures begin to warm, more and more of you will begin to notice many red trees sporting a red glow.

Red maple (Acer rubrum) are often seen growing in low-lying, and sometimes slightly swampy areas. In such areas, its tree companions often include bald cypress. This is an especially attractive sight in early spring when the bright green of new cypress leaves can be found mixed with red-tinged maple trees.

What many do not realize is that for the long period of time when red maples are stealing the show, they are undergoing a transformation from one form – red flowers – to its two-part winged scarlet fruit, called a samara. From afar the form may not be obvious, until you come across a blanket of ruby-red flowers, or samaras, scattered on the ground.

The final plant on this “fab four” list is Carolina yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) or yellow jasmine vine, often seen in profusion in the early spring scrambling up pine trees. In full bloom, it is a showstopper. Sporadic, early blossoms are quite bright in contrast to the drab winter colors, and certainly a welcome sight to those who have been anticipating the return of warm weather.

Some may consider Carolina yellow jessamine to be a bit pesky, as it is a robust grower that can appear about anywhere in your yard because it is spread freely by birds. But in the right place it can be a joy to garden with, and I will assure you that there are many worse plants to do battle with. Consider Gelsemium to be great for a first time gardener who claims they can kill anything and swear they were born with a brown thumb.

Need a fast-growing evergreen vine to grow on a pergola? Carolina yellow jessamine is a great choice to create a green roof so you can relax in a shady hammock. While the vine will quickly grow into a large mass, it can also be controlled. Remember, even large trees can be trained into a bonsai! I remember a friend’s grandmother who had cultivated a very petite cluster of jessamine tendrils on her decorative lamp post near her front door. New growth on this plant is easily snipped with kitchen shears or pruners.

We’ve gathered many beautiful native plants for you to peruse at our annual Arbor Day native plant sale thisSaturday, February 7, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (members admitted at 9 a.m.). Pearl River County master gardeners and Arboretum staff will be on hand provide planting recommendations and to help you choose the best plants for your property. Enjoy free admission to the Arboretum during our plant sale days.

See the program calendar on our website for more information on our upcoming programs, including a children’s Valentine’s Day craft workshop on February 14, a flytying workshop for youth (ages 9 to 14) who enjoy fishing on February 21, and a program on Sustainable Home Gardening on February 28

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 search for information on Mississippi native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, as well as gardening and home landscaping topics.

By Patricia Drackett, Crosby Arboretum Director