Arboretum Paths: A spring flower show approaches at the Crosby Arboretum

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A bee works a pink honeysuckle flower along a pathway on a warm March day in recent years at the Crosby Arboretum (photo by Pat Drackett

A bee works a pink honeysuckle flower along a pathway on a warm March day in recent years at the Crosby Arboretum (photo by Pat Drackett

Yes, March promises to be a busy month for spring flowers at the Arboretum. From the yellow “buttercups” about to burst from the round bloom buds in the pitcher plant bogs, to the pink, yellow, and orange blooms of the native azaleas, this is certainly the season we “hang on for the ride” as one blossom after another causes our visitors to exclaim in delight.

Kim Johnson has placed copies of our “What’s In Bloom” list near the register. And as you enter the Visitor Center, you will find an arrangement of branches and flowers the staff has gathered from the grounds to give you a taste of what you will see on a walk through the exhibits.

The native “honeysuckle” azalea buds on the pink and yellow varieties lining the Arboretum pathways are stretching to the bursting point. It won’t be long now! Near the Pinecote Pavilion, currently undergoing a restoration project, a stand of pink azaleas lies in wait to give the construction workers a wonderful surprise one day as they arrive to work.

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Native azalea buds have a rather comical appearance – such large buds they are, held atop the bare branches. Soon they will explode, and will beckon passing butterflies to sip their sweet-smelling nectar. The pink variety here is called Rhododendron canescens, or Piedmont azalea, and is found along our coastal streams and rivers. It is the easiest variety to grow in this area, and therefore the most highly recommended for those gardeners who get “bit by the native azalea bug”.

The yellow and orange hues of the flame azaleas (Rhododendron austrinum) will follow the pink blooming Piedmont azalea. These blooms tend to have a spicy fragrance. At our spring native plant sale to be held later this month, staff and Master Gardener volunteers will be on hand to help you decide if your property is suited to growing this delicate beauty.

On a walk through our Pitcher Plant Bog you will notice the large round buds of the yellow pitcher plants dangling from their stems. These are growing a bit taller every day. One year, the Pitcher Plant Bog flooded in the early spring – it was quite a sight to see hundreds of these ball-shaped buds suspended over the water!

Right outside the Visitor Center is a grove of red star anise, (Latin name, Illicium floridanum). Its buds are beginning to swell but none have popped yet. The anticipation is hard to endure! Also called starbush, Illicium is a native evergreen that will stop you dead in your tracks when in full bloom. Then, you’ll be instantly drawn to the exquisite shape of the deep maroon flowers. Each looks like a miniature octopus. This beautiful little understory shrub will be happy growing in your yard if you provide it the same conditions that camellias prefer.

Those who spend time in the woods may have encountered Illicium growing in the forest understory near stream and river banks. It will form colonies when happy, as ours has done. Most of the year you probably wouldn’t give this plant a second glance until you were to brush up against it. Then you would realize that the bruised leaves have an unusual pine-like odor.

Another not-so-kind name for Illicium is stinkbush, because the blooms are said to smell like fish. With other common names like “dead fish tree”, or “wet dog bush” you might be tempted to stay far away from this plant, but its blooms make it truly stunning in the early spring landscape.

On Saturday, a new exhibit appeared in the Arboretum’s gallery space – photography by the Abita Springs., Louisiana artist Lana Gramlich, whose work can truly be said to celebrate nature. Her work will be on display through the end of May.

Get inspired for home gardening and landscape projects! Mark your calendar now for the Arboretum’s Spring Native Plant Sale on Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21, and our annual lecture series on March 28 featuring Rick Darke, author of “The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden”, to be held at the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library. Search the Web to learn more about this new book and read more about Rick on his website ( I know you will be delighted to learn that our local audience will have the opportunity to hear the groundbreaking message of this nationally famous author. See our program calendar on our website at for more information. The event is free to members and $5 for non-members. If you plan on coming, please call the Arboretum office early to reserve your seat as our sign up list is filling rapidly.

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, see our website or call the office at (601) 799-2311.
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: If you have a few minutes to spare, we urge you to take a spin on your favorite Internet search engine to locate Lana Gramlich’s Flickr and Facebook sites, and get a taste of the awe-inspiring images she has captured. Then, come by and visit her current exhibit in the Arboretum Visitor Center.

By Patricia Drackett
Crosby Arboretum Director