Arboretum Paths: Celebrating spring at the Arboretum

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is about to bloom in the Arboretum’s Woodland Exhibit (Photo by Pat Drackett).

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is about to bloom in the Arboretum’s Woodland Exhibit (Photo by Pat Drackett).

It was wonderful this past Sunday to have so many people turn out for our Strawberries and Cream Festival! This is the second year we have combined the festival with our Crosby Arboretum Foundation Art Show, which boosted attendance.

Attendees to the event all reveled in picture-perfect weather and their springtime stroll through the Arboretum grounds. Fresh strawberries, ice cream, and lemonade were one of the highlights, and the crowd delighted in the music provided by Indian summer and the Jordan River band as well as a little do-si-do by a talented dancing couple toward the end of the performance.

The art entered this year was outstanding. Work featured outdoor subjects, the Arboretum, and other topics celebrating nature. It was heartening to see the work of persons who are taking such obvious pleasure in appreciating nature and being outdoors, recording and interpreting the beauty of the natural world.

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The comment was made by a visiting couple that they had not seen anyone consulting their phones during the entire event! Indeed, young and old alike were enjoying the music, conversation, and a chance to exploring the delights of emerging spring along the pathways.

Yellow pitcher plant blooms are currently the stars of the bog in our south Savanna Exhibit, and pink mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), is gearing up to unleash its awesome color display. Usually associated with the high elevations of the Appalachian Mountains, this evergreen shrub was “pushed” southward as a result of the last glacial period in human experience, which peaked about 20,000 years ago. As the climate warmed back up, the shrub “returned” to higher elevations, but stuck around in the lower south.

Today, mountain laurel can be found along the banks of coastal creeks and rivers. Those with Kalmia on their land are fortunate indeed, as the blooms of this shrub are in my opinion some of the most beautiful out there, most likely due to my nostalgia for having grown up near the Smokies. Take a look on your favorite search engine to explore images of this shrub’s pink blooms. It will certainly entice you to make a visit to the Arboretum to experience them for yourself.

Mountain laurel grows along the first bridge you cross on the Arrival Journey, and you cannot miss it! A second display is located on the first path on your left, when exiting the Pinecote Pavilion on the Pond Journey Path. Walk down this path, and you will find a huge shrub growing on the left-hand side. Bring a camera!

The flame azalea, Rhododendron austrinum, is also beginning to bloom. Its scent is somewhat spicy, in contrast to the sweeter fragrance of native pink azalea, Rhododendron canescens. Flame azalea is a dramatic and unexpected color in the forest, with yellow and orange flowers that make it a conversation piece when planted in the home garden.

We plan to offer both yellow and pink native honeysuckle azaleas at our plant sale on April 22 and 23, and are excited to have located many blooming plants that will attract pollinators.

On a recent visit to Paul Bounds nursery, I was pleased to hear from Randy Bounds that many of his customers now inquire about pollinator plants, in particular for bees. Working as a landscape designer before starting with the Arboretum, a popular request was for plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. While these shrubs and flowers would also attract bees, in the “old days” our clients would recoil at the mention that certain plants would attract bees. After a while, I learned to only mention the “desirable” insects that these species attracted. Randy’s comment was reflective of a recent change in attitude of home gardeners across the nation, those concerned about dwindling native bee populations and their desire to include plants in their gardens that would help the problem.

Mark your calendar for two great programs at the Arboretum on April 16. At 10:00 a.m., Dr. Eddie Smith will present “Frogs and Toads of South Mississippi”, and I’ll lead a field walk at 1:00 p.m. For more information, see our program calendar at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up for either program. Cost is $5 for non-members and $2 for non-members’ children.

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).

Patricia R. Drackett, Director and Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture
The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University Extension Service