Arboretum Paths: Fitting the right plant to the right place

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Titi, also called leatherwood, is a sprawling shrub that grows in wet areas and putting on a show with its long, white flower sprays (Photo courtesy of

Titi, also called leatherwood, is a sprawling shrub that grows in wet areas and putting on a show with its long, white flower sprays (Photo courtesy of

When I consider taking home a new plant from the garden center, I often find myself wondering what it looks like growing its natural habitat, in its home country. Yes, many of the plants on display in the garden section hail from other places, so in a sense, to look at these plants individually is to look at them completely out of context. Who are its “buddies”? What other plants like to grow alongside it?

At the Crosby Arboretum, we are a perfect site to observe native plants of Mississippi that “hang out with their buddies”. If you like red maple, here you can see exactly what plants grow in the same environmental conditions. It may sound complicated at first, but one way to ensure a higher degree of success in your garden is to do some basic research into the county of origin of the plant you want to take home. Learn its preferred soil, moisture, and light exposure. This way, instead of just popping it in the ground where you happen to have a vacant space, you can begin to organize your new plants in areas with their “companions” – those desiring similar moisture and light conditions.

Native plant species can be used to “solve” some of the issues posed by challenging landscapes, for example, newly constructed sites characterized by heavily compacted soils, or areas of your yard that are poorly drained. Very few of the typical plants you encounter in garden centers tend to be suited to such problem areas. Yet, on a walk through “wild” areas you will see plants growing in every possible type of soil, moisture, and sun exposure.

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Plants such as American holly, red maple, black gum, sweet bay magnolia, and wax myrtle are tough native species that will perform well for you in new landscapes. Wax myrtle makes up for the fact that it is short-lived (perhaps growing about twenty years or so) by having nitrogen-fixing abilities, and will improve your soil. But don’t plant species such as hydrangeas or azaleas, native or otherwise, in compacted soils and expect them to flourish. They require moist, rich, well-drained soils and also prefer some shifting shade to protect them from hot afternoon sun.

One high performing native shrub is called titi (rhymes with “bye-bye”), also called leatherwood. Its Latin name is Cyrilla racemiflora. With its long, pendulous white bloom clusters, it is currently quite stunning right now in the wet areas along the visitor parking lot, the north bog, and at the pond edge across from the Pinecote Pavilion. Titi is a large, sprawling, semi-evergreen shrub that can grow to 15 feet overall and sometimes as tall as 25 feet if given full sun, which will promote fuller bloom.

Bald cypress will also do well in heavy, wet soils. But, contrary to what you may think, this tree also does well in upland areas as well as in swampy ones. If its “knees” bother you, just add some native iris, crinum lily, or ferns at the base, and use pine straw to give the area a natural look. Eventually, the falling cypress leaves will build up a nice layer of mulch, and you will not have to mow under the trees.

Most of us don’t enjoy the exercise of spending money over and over again until we find the right plants for our yard. Get it right the first time! Invest in a book about native plants for your home garden and learn more about many attractive native species that are well-suited to the unique site conditions of your property.

The MSU Extension Service offers a number of publications for download on Mississippi native shrubs and trees, categorized by the moisture and light conditions they prefer. Visit their website at and enter these keywords into the main search engine, or browse the “Lawns and Gardens” section.

Attend the Arboretum’s annual Aquatic Plant Sale on Saturday, July 11, from 9:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free to both the plant sale and two informative programs about aquatic plant species. Master Gardener Eileen Hollander will talk about Louisiana iris at 10 a.m. and Marc Pastorek, owner of Pastorek Habitats, will give a Pond Journey tour at 11 a.m., and discuss plants in the Aquatic Exhibit.
Two free Project Wild teacher workshops will take place at the Arboretum in June for teachers & homeschool educators, facilitated by outreach educator Jessica Eaves, Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. On Thursday, June 18, “Flying Wild” will use activities focusing on birds to teach subjects such as language arts, social science and math. “Growing up Wild” will be offered on Friday, June 19 and features new activities designed to stimulate young children in new ways, while connecting them to nature. The training is suggested for teachers working with ages 3-7. Both workshops are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. See the Arboretum website for more information. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up.
The Arboretum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59). For more information about our programs and events, see the website or call 601-799-2311.

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: A plant can have many common names, but only one (current agreed upon) Latin name. Read about the origins of naming plants, and some of the “translations”. Acer rubrum is the Latin name for red maple. Can you guess why?

By Patricia Drackett