Arboretum Paths: Native plants at home in the bog
Published 7:00 am Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The Crosby Arboretum had its beginning in a wet pine savanna landscape. Areas of the site were designed to feature native aquatic, savanna, or woodland plants. Thirty-five years later, the setting has a much different appearance.
It is now no longer possible to see the interstate – or the Pinecote Pavilion – from Ridge Road. One-third of the 64 acre interpretive site is now a young forest. We like to tell schoolchildren that this is what happens if you simply stopped mowing your lawn. The remaining 20 acres is maintained as a perpetual grassland – or savanna – by regular prescribed fire.
The Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit changes dramatically throughout the year. In the north and south pitcher plant bogs, which are burned yearly, these changes are most evident. The bogs feature a wide diversity of wetland perennials and grasses. Among the blackened tufts of grass, delicate pitcher plant blooms will soon be unfolding.
Yellow, orange, and purple blooms of candyroot, also called milkwort or drumheads, pop up along the edges of the pathways, various species of Polygala. The plants are so-named because of their fragrant roots.
The bog areas hold more water than the rest of the Savanna Exhibit, and have a very high diversity of plant species. Although the site’s south Pitcher Plant Bog has always been a popular destination, the northernmost end of the property has increased in species complexity, and has become a destination worth the long walk.
Some bog plants can be very tiny, such as the rosettes of the ruby-colored sundews which may be the size of a quarter. Hugging the ground, they are covered with sparkling ruby-colored “dew” and lie in wait for insects to wander onto its sticky leaves. These carnivorous plants are best spotted in the early spring before the herbaceous plants block the view. Sundew has huge flowers held high on delicate stems, like a child’s balloon on a string.
Imagine what it is like to live on the bog’s ground layer as a crawfish or a field mouse, in the tunnels created by the grasses and bog plants. The native grasses here form clumps, rather than spreading in dense mats, and this allows the insect and animal species that inhabit these areas to travel with ease when the bog becomes thick with plant species.
Several species of bladderwort are found at the Arboretum. Another carnivorous plant, one species grows in the savannas on the ground layer, and another is found floating on the surface of shallow water bodies such as in Cypress Head or along the edges of the gum pond. It has tiny yellow flowers on thin stalks, and can be “there one day and gone the next”, for instance, if we get a heavy rain. Bogmoss is an rarely seen plant with small lavender flowers. Perhaps we will find some on our May field walk to our Steep Hollow Natural Area.
Showy species such as yellow pitcher plants, Stokes’ aster, Liatris, and pine lilies grow in abundance in both the north and south bogs. Clumps of toothache grass (Ctenium floridanum) are sometimes spotted, identified by their unusual curled seed heads, quite attractive when backlit by the sun. The grass is so-named because of the numbing effect caused when the lower parts of the plant are chewed.
Other species found in the savannas may not be showy, but are certainly unusual in appearance. The spikes of club moss (Lycopodium) are currently growing in profusion near the edges of the new gum pond, and can also be seen along the savanna pathways. Also in the Gum Pond Exhibit, and throughout the wet site, you will find mounds of sphagnum moss, also known as peat moss.
Have you ever heard of a quaking bog? These are wetlands composed of a thick layer of sphagnum peat, and can sometimes be many feet deep. Quaking bogs are found throughout North America, but are uncommon in our coastal area. The term “quaking” refers to the feeling one has when standing on a deep layer of peat that is supported by water. This will be the subject of a future educational exhibit planned for the South Savanna, across from the Pitcher Plant Bog. Designed by faculty in the MSU Department of Landscape Architecture, the exhibit will include a “floating” boardwalk. Find a video on your favorite search engine to see people walking or jumping on what first appears to be solid ground, but has the property of a giant green waterbed.
Prepare for spring gardening! Mark your calendar for a program on Sustainable Home Gardening practices will be held February 28 at 10:00 a.m. with Harrison County Extension Agent Christian Stephenson. Our spring gallery exhibit will feature award-winning photography by Lana Gramlich, with an opening event set for Saturday, March 7, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. The public is invited to this free community event. Our Spring Native Plant Sale will be held on Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21.
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 atwww.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu.
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Research the above species to learn how to identify them, and to learn where to find them. Search online to read more about quaking bogs.
By Patricia Drackett
Crosby Arboretum Director