Arboretum Paths: Greenery for festive holiday decorations

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yaupon holly is a common sight along Pearl River County roadsides, with berries that provide late-season food for birds and wildlife. (Photo by Pat Drackett)

Yaupon holly is a common sight along Pearl River County roadsides, with berries that provide late-season food for birds and wildlife. (Photo by Pat Drackett)

As we edge into the cooler months, perhaps you’ve caught a glimpse of bright red berries that stand out from the woodland foliage. Two common hollies seen in our coastal region are yaupon holly and American holly. These evergreen trees can offer “free” greenery for wreaths and garland projects, and are attractive when mixed with pine boughs or Southern magnolia sprays.

Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) is a common, small-leaved holly found along area roadsides, in forest edges and fence lines. It is a large-growing (to around 20 feet) lacy shrub or small tree and is very tough, being both salt tolerant and drought tolerant. While you may not give it a second look because it is so very common, keep in mind that birds in need of a late winter snack will have an entirely different perspective about this plant.

Several hollies found along Arboretum pathways offer food for critters, and provide a feast for our eyes in a gray winter landscape. Fruit on deciduous winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) stands out starkly against the bare branches.

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Flocks of birds such as cedar waxwings and robins, and wildlife such as fox, deer, armadillo, and raccoon are known to enjoy a late winter snack on holly berries, especially the squirrels residing near our Visitor Center, which like to toss down American holly (Ilex opaca) leaves as they harvest the berries from the multi-trunked trees at our deck.

Greenery from American holly has a tradition of being used for Christmas greenery. But carry your pruning shears with you when trimming greens for your table or mantle. Many people don’t think twice about breaking off limbs from a tree or shrub, but it is a kindness to the plant to remove branches properly and judiciously. If you do include American holly in your wreath, the project will demand a good pair of gloves, and some patience and bravery.

Trees such as the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) will become much more obvious in the landscape as the deciduous trees continue to shed their leaves. If you have a large specimen that wouldn’t miss a limb or two, magnolia leaves – and seed pods – certainly make elegant holiday arrangements. Sprigs of other non-native holly shrubs such as Dwarf Burford (dwarf, ha!) will make beautiful, simple, holiday table or mantle arrangements.

Elves have been hard at work lately, decorating our Visitor Center for the holidays. Oversized longleaf pine cones dusted in silver and gold have magically appeared next to our Gift Shop register. Both the longleaf and slash pine cones offer superb material for decorating projects. The slash pine cones in particular make attractive wreaths.

Winter will bring many days of pleasant weather, perfect for exploring the Arboretum. Plan to walk our grounds over the holidays. We are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the exception of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

Consider giving a gift of an Arboretum membership, which will also include a membership in the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Membership Program, providing free or reduced admission to over 250 public gardens in North America. Arboretum memberships are $30 for an individual membership and $40 for a family membership (and only $15 for college students!).
Please join us for festive treats and holiday good cheer at the Crosby Arboretum’s annual Holiday Open House celebration on Saturday, December 12, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Admission to the Arboretum, and to the event is free to the public, which will include the official opening of our winter Gallery Exhibit, nature paintings by Gail Sheasby, from 10:00 a.m. to Noon. Gail, a member of the Greater Picayune Arts Council, has been painting and studying art for over 25 years, and works in oil, acrylic, watercolor and colored pencils. Her subjects include outdoor scenes of the bayous, oak and cypress trees, and wildlife that are found in South Louisiana and Mississippi.
For more information, call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311 or see our website at Mississippi State University Crosby 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