Arboretum Paths: Welcoming the arrival of fall

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, October 28, 2015

perennials:  The Crosby Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit currently features the yellow and white blooms of late-season perennials.   Photo by Patricia Drackett

perennials: The Crosby Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit currently features the yellow and white blooms of late-season perennials.
Photo by Patricia Drackett

When one’s time for enjoying a particular experience is limited, this only makes that experience even more precious – and enjoyable. The opportunity for taking a leisurely stroll of our grounds just doesn’t seem to come around as often as it once did in my early years with the Arboretum, so I can truly say that my recent walk in the Savanna Exhibit, under the guise of capturing some photographs of fall perennials and grasses, was a most exhilarating treat.

After searching my files for photos of autumn blooms, I was forced to accept that most of my time walking our site with a camera was in the spring and summer. Each fall, we become consumed with conducting our public events and programs, and consequently we spend a good deal of our time indoors.

In search of photos, I grabbed the camera and headed out of the Visitor Center with my senses in full gear, and was immediately aware of the crunching sounds from the brittle, fallen leaves scattered across the deck. I perceived a difference in the sunlight’s intensity now that the tree canopy was becoming more open, but above all, I began to breathe in the unmistakable scent of fall.

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My walk to the savanna and the pitcher plant bog brought me across more fallen leaves, a steady crackle under my feet. I passed a sumac tree still cloaked in scarlet leaves, looking up to see the jewel tones of black gum leaves, sweetgum stars, and the brilliant burgundy lace of an Elliot’s blueberry shrub, laden with bright red leaves that contrasted with a delicate network of criss-crossing green twigs.

As I walked, the steady breeze fueled a continual rain of tumbling leaves. Entering the Savanna Exhibit, these gusts set the tall panic grass (Panicum) along the edges of the path into motion. How different this grassland appeared to me now – a sea of yellow and white blooms, minus the purple spikes of Liatris and tufts of vanilla plant (Carphephorus odoratissimus) that had so recently stolen the show.

Now, white asters and yellow swamp sunflower prevailed, among thousands of white polka-dots called “bog buttons” or “ladies’ hatpins” that provided a matrix holding other late-blooming perennials. Here and there, new lime-yellow hollow leaves emerged from the clumps of pitcher plants.

Autumn’s rusts, burgundies and maroons sang among the grasses, in spent flower heads and leaves of grass that had developed late-season hues. Now, the Savanna is a loud riot of textures and tones. Grasses sway in the slightest breeze, and at each bend in the trail one finds a unique and exquisite composition of fall colors.

As I draw closer to the pitcher plant bog, the sound of insects grows louder and grasshoppers soar across the path from one patch to another. A bird, perhaps a Henslow’s sparrow, darts straight up only a few feet from me, flitting away to a safer distance.

I strain to capture a photo of everything that swirls around me, from the silver-backed sweetbay magnolia leaves dancing in the wind, to the ever-expanding plumes of grasses. It is all so incredibly exhilarating – and yet, so very mundane. I have become completely immersed in the beauty of the ordinary, and all that surrounds me is blissfully alive and vibrant.

A toad scampers in the grass and I snap his picture. Later, I surmise my warty friend is a Fowler’s toad, my best guess after searching online and finding a wonderful presentation, “Frogs and Toads of South Mississippi” by Kathy Shelton, South Mississippi Conservation Program Biologist with the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Kathy recently provided an informative program on bats for us at the Arboretum. Search for her presentation to learn more about the frogs and toads you may spot in your own yard.

Mark your calendar for a full day of Halloween Fun that will take place on Saturday, October 31! The event includes a fun-filled floral workshop with MSU Extension Professor Dr. Jim DelPrince on creating fairy crowns for princes and princesses of all ages, children’s workshops for pumpkin painting and carving, and a special Spooky Woods trick or treat event. See our website’s homepage at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.eduand click the Halloween banner for more details. Call 601-799-2311 to guarantee a spot in these workshops.

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