Arboretum Paths: Mississippi’s native wetland wonders

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Flowering native species that call the Crosby Arboretum home include from top left a swamp leatherflower,  bottom left a parrot pitcher plant,  bottom middle a pine lily,  bottom right a snakemouth orchid and top right an orange milkwort.

Flowering native species that call the Crosby Arboretum home include from top left a swamp leatherflower, bottom left a parrot pitcher plant, bottom middle a pine lily, bottom right a snakemouth orchid and top right an orange milkwort.

While choosing slides for a recent presentation on the many beautiful blooming plants you can see on a walk here at the Crosby Arboretum, I realized that very few of them would probably be familiar to the group I would be speaking to. Unless, of course, someone in the crowd lived near a wet pine savanna.

Years ago, I happened to be acquainted with a couple in north Long Beach who had just that – a pine savanna in their backyard. In the late summer, scarlet pine lilies bloomed in great abundance in their small savanna. When they moved away from coastal Mississippi, the Arboretum was fortunate to inherit a precious jar of collected pine lily seed, which were later sown by grounds manager Terry Johnson in our north and south pitcher plant bogs. While the numbers of pine lilies have certainly increased as a result, this striking lily is still only seen infrequently in our savannas, to loud acclaim when spotted among the late-season grasses, although usually as only a solitary bloom.

Imagine a whole field of these crimson beauties, mixed with yellow pitcher plants and other wetland blooming species, and you will begin to get an idea of what kind of “garden” these avid gardeners had “cultivated” on their property. It was certainly one that demanded very little maintenance.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Not all of us can have a garden like this, although it is possible to create a small “bog garden” with species that will grow in poorly drained, acidic soils. On the Visitor Center deck we have just such a garden, which contains wetland species such as yellow pitcher plants, sundew, bog violets, and club moss, an unusual primitive plant in the family Lycopodiaceae sometimes also called ground pine that looks like fuzzy reindeer horns.

If you make a point of visiting the Arboretum throughout the year, you will have the chance to be surprised by an ever-changing palette of blooms. While spring will bring a non-stop show of familiar flowering species, other seasons feature more unusual native blooms. I remember the first time I encountered drifts of native phlox, marveled at the tiny white twin flowers of partridgeberry, or saw the delicate bell-shaped lavender blooms on the swamp leatherflower vine that twines up the trunk of a pond cypress tree at our Cypress Cove deck.

Some of you may have noticed that we sometimes refer to this 64 acre portion of the Arboretum on Ridge Road as our “interpretive site”. The Crosby Arboretum also has 700 acres of associated natural areas, several of which we will be visiting on guided field trips this May.

The definition of interpretation is to “explain the meaning of”, and at our garden, we enjoy telling our visitors about the unusual native plant species they can encounter on a walk through our grounds. Often, we have a display in our Visitor Center of the plants currently blooming. No, most of them will look nothing like what you may experience at a typical public garden. But that’s what makes the Crosby Arboretum the unique site that it is. Here, you will see species that are native to the Pearl River Drainage Basin ecosystem.

In my youth, growing up near the Smoky Mountains, it was not unusual for our family to grab a field guide and go exploring in the nearby national park to learn to identify birds, mushrooms, or wildflowers. While some may consider such activities to be a “thing of the past”, at the Arboretum, this pastime is alive and well with the individuals and families that visit our site on their quest for learning more about the natural world.

Make a point to come visit and explore the Arboretum this spring! We’ll soon be enjoying displays of southern crabapple, mayhaw, native azalea, blue flag iris, and mountain laurel. Upcoming programs will include field walks where you can learn new species, including a native orchid walk. Our spring schedule will soon be available on our website.

We still have room in the flytying workshop for youth (ages 9 to 14), using simple household materials to create fishing flies, with Will Sullivan this Saturday, February 21 at 1:00 p.m. A program on Sustainable Home Gardening practices will be held February 28 at 10:00 a.m. with Harrison County Extension Agent Christian Stephenson.

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

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Visit and enter the keywords “bog garden” to read about how to create one. Look up “club moss” on the Web. What is it used for? You may be surprised!