Arboretum Paths: The dynamic transition to spring

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Golden club (Orontium aquaticum) is blooming in the shallow areas of the Crosby Arboretum’s Aquatic Exhibit (photo by Pat Drackett).

Golden club (Orontium aquaticum) is blooming in the shallow areas of the Crosby Arboretum’s Aquatic Exhibit (photo by Pat Drackett).

Last week during the period of heavy rain, the Arboretum still welcomed a few visitors. Often, those who arrive in inclement weather are those who had planned a visit or knew they would be passing by our public garden on a trip.
While you can pick a destination, one is always at the mercy of the weather, especially here in coastal Mississippi. But we on the staff believe that the Crosby Arboretum has something to admire no matter the weather conditions.
Unlike other times of the year when we are fully immersed in a season, the transitional times as one season changes into the other offer so many visual treats. Leaves and bloom are popping, insects are stirring, and spring rains fuel the flow of water across the property
During rainy periods, the Arboretum is in one of its most dynamic states. Being a wet pine savanna, water is certainly an element that defines us. Our pathways also serve as drainage channels, moving the water to the south.
On one of those very soggy days, grounds manager Terry Johnson took a walk around the site to make a list of upcoming maintenance projects. On his return, he remarked on how awesome it had been to experience the Swamp Forest Exhibit stream flowing swiftly through the channel.
In the south Pitcher Plant Bog standing water creates a mirror effect, reflecting the branches of trees and the shapes of clouds. Rain saturates the trunks of tall pine trees, which turn almost black against muted greens and grays.
It won’t be much longer until the blooms of the yellow pitcher plants emerge. It’s quite a sight to see their round buds held high on arching stems over the flooded bog.
Against the deep greens of evergreen trees and shrubs such as American holly, yaupon and inkberry holly, deciduous shrubs are unfurling leaves which are a gorgeous light spring green. In time, they will darken to become a variety of green hues.
One of my favorite deciduous shrubs is the lacy Elliot’s blueberry. Now, thousands of tiny leaves decorate the delicate branches and bell-shaped flowers still beckon passing bees. Its graceful form is a stark contrast to the bold sculptural tree trunks in the forest.
Near the Pinecote Pavilion, a pink honeysuckle azalea is about to burst into bloom. A few blooms had broken bud last week, and we spotted a swallowtail butterfly that had already zeroed in on a meal. When these shrubs are in bloom, they become a beacon for insect activity as well as for humans with cameras.
Encouraged by the recent rain, cherry laurel, black cherry, buckwheat tree, mayhaw, chokeberry, and southern crabapple trees are blooming. Cow lily and golden club are blooming in the Aquatic Exhibit.
When saturated with water, the trunks of pine trees are quite dark, and offer a great contrast between the lighter bark of sweetbay magnolia, red maple, and American holly. The smooth, silver-white trunks are often encrusted with lichens, which stand out after a rain.
Field guides devoted entirely to lichens can provide entry into the fascinating world of these organisms. What are lichens? If you can’t answer this question, take a quick spin on your favorite search engine for images and information. If you are a curious sort who is fascinated by nature, this could turn into a day-long excursion and perhaps even a life-long obsession.
This recent plant “activity” might even provide local artists with some inspiration for our upcoming art show. Our only stipulation is the paint must be dry when submitted.
Teachers and homeschool groups, our Wildlife Day is Thursday, March 31 from 9:00 a.m. to noon. This year, exhibitors will include the New Orleans Audubon Nature Institute Wetlands Express, Hattiesburg Zoo, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, the Audubon Society, a monarch butterfly exhibit, and much more! Admission $2 per child, free to teachers and chaperones. Groups of 10 or more, please call 601-799-2311 to schedule your arrival time. The Crosby Arboretum Foundation Art Show will take place on April 2 and 3. Prizes will be given in four categories, including painting and photography; three-dimensional art, and heritage crafts. Grades 7 -12 are encouraged to participate in the youth division. For more information, see the entry form The Arboretum is 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 R. Drackett, Director, and Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture
The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University Extension Service

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