Arboretum Paths: Celebrate native plants at plant sale Friday and Saturday!

Published 9:25 am Wednesday, October 12, 2016

By Pat Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum
MSU Extension Service

Would you like to have a property filled with plants requiring little care and reflecting the beauty of this region? Consider using more native plant species in your landscape.

Not only can native species be just as attractive as the ornamental plants hailing from other countries, they are also intertwined with our cultural history. For example, the reason why a Sweetgum tree (Latin name, Liquidambar styraciflua) is also called “the toothbrush tree” is because its fibrous twigs were once used to make toothbrushes.

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This was confirmed by a local octogenarian, who said that when he was a child, he remembered the health department demonstrating how to cut the Sweetgum twigs, strip the bark from the end, and fashion them into a bundle of fibers that they used to brush their teeth. That same Sweetgum tree is still growing in his yard.

Native Americans collected the sweet fruit of American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) to consume, which is delicious and sweet when ripe. Roasted duck is particularly flavorful when seasoned with persimmons.

Some will still gather the fruit to make tasty bread or jam, that is, if you can beat the local wildlife to the tree! Persimmon fruit is also high in nutrients, including potassium. Do you have an ancient applesauce strainer tucked away in a cabinet? This piece of equipment can be used to separate the persimmon pulp from the fruit, which freezes well.

This deciduous native tree is found throughout the southeastern U.S. and can be identified by its characteristic dark “blocky” bark. It is in the Ebony family, and its dense wood has famously been used for making golf club heads and to flavor meats by smoking.

Persimmon trees prosper in a variety of site conditions, in wet bottomland forests, old fields, and dry scrublands or woods, in full to part sun. At the Arboretum, persimmon occurs along woodland edges and in our Savanna Exhibit, where its roots withstand the periodic fire used to manage our grasslands. Here, it continues to sprout multi-trunk clusters until it is burned again.

Deciduous magnolias – bigleaf magnolia and Ashe’s magnolia – are showstoppers on the Arboretum’s Arrival Journey. At first glance, they have a somewhat tropical appearance. Their blooms have petals that are more strap-like than Southern Magnolia. Deciduous magnolias prefer soil that is rich, moist, and well-drained.

By observing where you see certain plants thriving at the Arboretum, you can search for a similar spot on your property to be assured of their success.

Trees like blackgum, green ash, hawthorns, Grancy graybeard, persimmon, and sweetbay magnolia are some of the native trees that are both attractive in the landscape and useful to local bird and wildlife species. American beautyberry and hollies are shrubs with high wildlife value, and wild honeysuckle, blackberries, and a host of native perennials and grasses will not only please you, but will entice local birds to your garden.

Extension publication 2402 on “Establishing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat”, available from the MSU Extension Service website ( is an informative 28-page handbook that is available for download.

This publication outlines the basic needs of wildlife, and how to provide for them. For example, if you include a diversity of “layers” in your yard – plants of all heights and forms – this will offer wildlife a wide selection of habitats to live and breed within.

Our Fall Native Plant Sale will be held this Friday and Saturday, October 14 and 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Members are admitted one hour early. Pearl River County Master Gardeners and Arboretum staff and volunteers will be on hand to help you select plants appropriate for your site conditions. Admission is free the two days of the plant sale!

Come and choose some new plants to include in your home landscape. This cooler time of the year is perfect for installing new specimens, because they will have a long time period to become established before hot weather returns.

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). For more information call (601) 799-2311 or see our website at