Arboretum Paths: Arboretum getting “fired up” about burn season

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, December 23, 2015

PHOTO CAPTION: Prescribed fire will be applied in the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit in January and February when the environmental conditions are favorable. (Photo by Terry Johnson).

PHOTO CAPTION: Prescribed fire will be applied in the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit in January and February when the environmental conditions are favorable. (Photo by Terry Johnson).

With January just around the corner, excitement is building as the Arboretum’s “burn season” approaches. The first two months of each year are when we conduct prescription burns in portions of our twenty acre Savanna Exhibit.

Using fire as a management tool does not harm the native plants in the Arboretum’s savannas. The plants are adapted to a fire-climax ecosystem, and prescribed burning results in the enhancement of their growth and reproduction.

Observing new plant life as it emerges from the blackened earth following a dose of prescribed fire is an awesome experience. After a short rest, the tufts of charred grass will push forth new shoots, and a new non-stop season of blooms will begin again.

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In only a few short months, while northern states are still chilly, we will be delighting in the early spring flowers of sunbonnets (Chaptalia tomentosa) and white bog violets (Viola lanceolata).

Then come the lovely carpets of pale yellow “buttercups”, blooms of the yellow pitcher plants that flower before the hollow leaves. What a breathtaking show! Look closely among the flowers and grasses unfurling in the bog to see the coin-sized carnivorous sundews pressed flat against the bare earth. These are visible for only a short time, their spoon-shaped leaves glistening with sticky ruby “jewels”.

Grounds Manager Terry Johnson and his “fire crew make this show possible each year through prescription fire in our Savanna Exhibit each year. Terry has been preparing for the upcoming burn season, beginning with necessary repairs to the fire gear and readying the truck used to haul water for the burns.

Terry and assistant Jarrett Hurlston will also prepare for burning by pruning vegetation and raking fallen pine straw from the pathways adjacent to the savannas. The trails along the edges of the Savanna Exhibit function as firebreaks during the burns.

Some wonder how we are able to burn our Pitcher Plant Bog, because it contains a boardwalk. The answer is simple – the crew prepares the area by weedeating an area extending about six feet from the wooden pathway. Look closely at the grasses and perennials next to the boardwalk once the area has grown back, and you may see a subtle vegetative difference in the plants growing here from areas which receive prescribed fire.

While the public is invited to observe the burns or help with the volunteer crew, this is an activity that we cannot schedule! The anticipation builds each week while we wait to see if the precise combination of environmental conditions are present needed for a controlled fire to take place. As a certified burn manager, Terry verifies the presence of the conditions needed for the safe and controlled application of fire such as temperature, wind speed, site moisture and atmospheric humidity.

Prescribed fire demonstrations will be conducted at the Arboretum on Thursdays and Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in January and February, weather permitting. Call ahead around 9:00 a.m. on the day you are interested in attending, or place your name on a call list for a volunteer crew. Wear old clothes and boots, dress for the weather, and bring a lunch.

Standing on the South Bog boardwalk in summer amongst the steady hum of insect life and gazing on the robust growth of the perennials and grasses, it is not easy task to convince a tour group that a little more than half a year ago the area they are standing in was flat and blackened. Come observe this process, and I guarantee you, too, will be amazed!

For more information about controlled fire, see the Mississippi State University Extension Service website to download publication no. 2283, “Prescribed Burning in Southern Pine Forests”.

Mark your calendars for our annual Forge Day event to be held on Saturday, January 30, featuring blacksmithing and metalworking demonstrations by area craftsmen. The event is free for members, $5 for non-members, and $2 for non-members’ children.

We will be open over the holidays, with the exception of Christmas Eve/Day and New Year’s Eve/Day. For more information call the Arboretum office at (601) 799-2311 or visit the website We are open Wednesday through Sunday 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