Arboretum Paths: Celebrating the approach of autumn

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The blooms of swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) will soon be unfurling in the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit. Photo by Patricia Drackett

The blooms of swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) will soon be unfurling in the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit.
Photo by Patricia Drackett

Over the past week, many activities at the Arboretum helped fuel our eager anticipation of the coming fall. We enjoyed several days of deliciously cool mornings, and even though warm afternoons returned all too soon, we knew autumn is on its way.
On a field walk around the grounds on Saturday, our group traveled the east side of the Pond Journey, and looked up to find fiery scarlet leaves bejeweling a black gum tree. Earlier that day, Senior Curator Jill Mirkovich led a fall arrangements workshop near the Pinecote Pavilion. Participants chatted enthusiastically while they planted a variety of fall-themed containers, for bringing home to perk up their landscape.
With cooler weather offering more opportunities to get outside, many of us will be undertaking neglected outdoor chores. These will include the seasonal spruce-up of the public areas in our yard for the coming holidays. Simple, short projects such as planting containers with fall-themed foliage and flowers is a great way to make a big impact in your home’s front entrance area.
Several other workshops at the Arboretum this fall will feature ways for you to use plant materials for decoration. On October 10, a workshop will be offered on designing table centerpieces, and a Halloween Fun Day on October 31 will include several family programs such as pumpkin decorating and creating fairy crowns from live plant material, either “just for fun” or to be used as an accompaniment for a costume.
On Saturday’s walk around the Savanna Exhibit we could sense a transition taking place between the perennials of late summer and those of early fall. A new show is about to unfurl in the savannas, that of the autumn grasses and late-season perennials.
During our walk we discussed how to use some of these plants in our landscape. Native perennials such as swamp sunflower (Helianthus), will soon be blooming in the bog. This plant, along with blazing star (Liatris), the attractive purple flower spikes often seen in floral arrangements, are two good performers for the home garden.
While the Liatris are now past their peak and preparing to set seed, the Helianthus will soon be stealing the show. We noticed that very few of the swamp sunflower blooms have opened, but hundreds of green buds promised their imminent appearance. Their flat-topped blooms will soon be intertwined among a variety of unfurling grasses such as little bluestem (Schizachyrium) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum).
Swamp sunflower is deer-resistant and salt tolerant, as well as being simply gorgeous. Cultivars of this plant with different shades of gold or yellow are available, such as ‘Mellow Yellow’, ‘First Light’, and ‘Gold Lace’. Some of the cultivars are said to be better suited to regular, or dryer, garden soil. Locate them in the rear of your perennial bed.
We also saw the purple flower clusters of deer’s tongue (Carphephorus) in the Savanna Exhibit. This perennial plant doesn’t like it quite as wet as the bog, and remains on the dryer side of the South Savanna trail. Like swamp sunflower, deer’s tongue is also a member of the Aster family. Another common name for this plant is vanilla plant because of the odor when its dried leaves are crushed. At one time this plant was a coastal commodity, collected and sold for its use in flavoring pipe tobacco.
The Arboretum offers quarterly native plant sales. At these events, knowledgeable individuals such as the Pearl River County Master Gardeners, will be available to assist you in choosing the plants best suited to your property’s conditions. Mark your calendar for the Fall Native Plant Sale on Friday and Saturday, October 16 and 17.
This Saturday, October 3, come and enjoy an early morning 5K run through the Crosby Arboretum’s exhibits. Registration opens at 7 a.m. The event is organized by Teen Challenge of Poplarville. Registration fee is $25 (fee includes site admission). Proceeds benefit this non-profit group. Pre-register online at For more information call (601) 795-8063 or contact Erica Sloan
See the Arboretum program schedule at for information on the October 10 workshop on creating tabletop centerpieces. Also on that day we will offer a program on Mississippi’s native milkweed species. Call 601-799-2311 to register for either event.
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).

By Patricia Drackett

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