Arboretum Paths: Summer’s tapestry unfolds at the Arboretum

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, June 10, 2015

  Coastal false asphodel (Tofieldia) has a funny name, but is a gorgeous flower.  Photo by

Coastal false asphodel (Tofieldia) has a funny name, but is a gorgeous flower.
Photo by

Things have really been heating up in the Arboretum’s savannas, with summer around the corner. Every week brings more new blooms that catch our attention during trips along the pathways lining the meadows.

It is simply impossible this time of year to take a “quick tour” around our south pitcher plant bog. This is the part our 20-acre Savanna Exhibit with the highest species diversity. In other words, if you were to count the number of different plants found with a square meter, the number would be perhaps between 30 and 40 different species. Because not all of these plants bloom at the same time, it takes a skilled botanist to point out everything growing in a plot without their telltale blooms. We have been fortunate this spring to have a number of plant experts to add to our knowledge, such as Dr. Wayne Morris from Troy University and Dr. Mac Alford from the University of Southern Mississippi, who led field trips and discussed the secrets and stories of the plants found in our pine savanna landscape.

Yes, a “quick spin” will come to a screeching halt when we spot new blooms emerging among the grasses. This past Saturday, our cart ride through the South Pitcher Plant Bog experienced several such pauses, as we observed species such as yellow colic root (Aletris lutea), or redroot (Lachnanthes caroliana), whose seeds are a preferred food of Sandhill Cranes.

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Our savanna is an ever-changing and colorful tapestry, with constantly evolving patterns, textures, and colors. These grasslands are certainly never boring, and more often than not are vibrantly humming with insect and animal life. One day you may discover the delicate purple blooms of longleaf milkweed. But take note of its location, as a few months later you may be passing the same plant and see that mature seedpods have burst open and are now releasing flat brown seeds on fluffy silk parachutes ready to travel to new homes.

Looking closely, you will see dark green rosettes of the narrowleaf sunflower (Helianthus angustifolia). In late summer they will begin to push forth stems that will soon explode with yellow blossoms. But for now they are just a curiosity – if you feel the surface of the leaves these are very much like a cat’s tongue, extremely rough and sandpaper-like. Another flower that will be stealing the show in late summer is blazing star (Liatris spicata), also called gayfeather. Its short grayish-green leaves line short stems, resembling a bottle-brush, but will later they will form tall purple spikes to mix with sunflowers and fall grasses.

On a trip “down south” to our lower bog, our journey builds in anticipation as we pass more and more complex and intensifying color. Pink and yellow meadow beauties are eventually joined by other species. Last month, we saw only a few clusters of a compact yellow eyed grass (Xyris) but now hundreds of these bright lemon-yellow flowers are balanced on wiry stems. What an awesome sight!
Should something appear in the savanna we are unfamiliar with, an email to Dr. Alford or Dr. Morris will gain us an answer. Last week Terry Johnson and I spied two unusual white bloom spikes out in the bog. They were similar to a lady’s tresses orchid or a white colic root, but they continued to stump us. A photo sent to Dr. Morris resulted in learning that its Latin name is Tofieldia racemosa and that it is in the Lily family. It grows as a companion to pitcher plants and is called Coastal false asphodel. However, that is not the easiest common name to remember, so perhaps we need to re-name this beautiful and delicate plant the “fairy wand flower”!

Make plans to attend the Arboretum’s annual Aquatic Plant Sale on Saturday, July 11, from 9:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free that day to both the plant sale and two informative programs about aquatic plant species. Pearl River County Master Gardener Eileen Hollander will talk about Louisiana iris propagation and culture at 10 a.m. and Marc Pastorek, owner of the Meadowmakers native landscaping firm, will give a Pond Journey tour at 11 a.m., discussing the plants seen in the Aquatic Exhibit.
Two free Project Wild teacher workshops will take place in June, open to teachers & homeschool educators. The training will be conducted by Jessica Eaves, Outreach Conservation Biologist with the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Books, registration, and CEUs are FREE. “Flying Wild” uses activities focusing on birds to teach subjects such as language arts, social science and math and will be held on Thursday, June 18. “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 and many of its wonders, and is suggested for teachers who work with ages 3-7. Both workshops will be take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. See the Arboretum website to read more in the June program calendar, and call 601-799-2311 to sign up for these workshops.
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 about our programs and events, see the website or call 601-799-2311.

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Research the plants mentioned above in the Arboretum’s plant list, which is linked from our website’s homepage or on your favorite Internet search engine

By Patricia Drackett