Arboretum Paths: Winter walks

Published 1:48 pm Friday, December 16, 2016

On your walk through the Arboretum, you will discover several new projects, such as this seating deck in the Swamp Forest Exhibit  Photo by Jennifer Buchanan.

On your walk through the Arboretum, you will discover several new projects, such as this seating deck in the Swamp Forest Exhibit
Photo by Jennifer Buchanan.

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

At last Saturday’s annual Open House celebration, I spoke with several groups of visitors who were enjoying their first-time visit to our public garden. We were fortunate the day was bright and sunny, with the recent cold weather. A cloudy day might not have attracted as many people.

Some visitors explored our trails, walking our Pond Journey or Swamp Forest Trail. This recently completed 1,000 foot pathway includes a number of handsome bridges and a new seating deck built with cypress lumber from the sawmill of Richard and Janet Amacker in Poplarville.

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Grounds manager Terry Johnson and Tom Heim have just completed the new deck, located at the south terminus of the Swamp Forest Trail. Only a short section of path remains to tie this trail to the Slough Trail that leads north from our Arrival Journey. The trail footprint has been cleared, and the final step will be to add base material and a gravel surface.

Most visitors head south when embarking on an exploratory journey, beginning with the Pinecote Pavilion, but the Swamp Forest Trail offers another option. In hot summer weather, it will be a cool walk through the four-acre exhibit to the Gum Pond.

Site construction began on the Gum Pond in October 2010. In only three months, an overlook had been constructed and the pond had filled. Since this time, we’ve thrilled to see the many species of wetland plants that have emerged along the shores of the pond, responding to the increased sunlight from the opened canopy.

Visitors to the Gum Pond often ask about the strange, twisted groundcover resembling mossy antelope horns that grows on the forest floor. The Latin name for the plant is Lycopodium, and a common name is club moss. Also called creeping cedar or ground pine, it is what is called a “fern ally”. It is not a true fern, but like a fern, it lacks flowers and reproduces by spores.

We introduce our tour groups to this plant by describing the water-repelling qualities of its spores, which were was once used on the inside of medical gloves. And because of its highly flammable qualities, it is still used as flash powder by stage magicians, and in olden days to create the flash for portraits in photography studios.

Elliot’s blueberries are currently spectacular along the trails. Their delicate green branches hold scarlet leaves, highlighted by a misty, grey winter landscape. Their beauty is equal to that of any cultivated specimen found in a glossy garden magazine. They remind me of the common shrub Nandina, called heavenly bamboo, but they have one thing Nandina doesn’t – tasty fruit, excellent in pancakes or muffins!
Walk through our Savanna Exhibit, and you will see multi-trunked saplings dotting the grasslands. In only a few years, these young trees – largely sweetgum, black gum, sweetbay magnolia, and red maples – will grow by leaps and bounds. Until the next fire, that is. Their tough, extensive, and fast-growing root systems withstand the prescribed fire we use as a maintenance tool in the savannas.
This winter will bring many days of pleasant weather, perfect for exploring the Arboretum. Come walk our grounds over the holidays! We will be 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. This includes membership in the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Membership Program, providing free or reduced admission to over 250 U.S. public gardens. The cost is $30 for an individual and $40 for a family membership. Student memberships are $15.

On your next visit, see our winter gallery exhibit of Pearl River Paintings by Carriere artist Jeanie Latiolais, on display through February. Our gift shop includes work by other artists and craftsmen, perfect for finding unique, last-minute gifts.

The Arboretum is located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road. For more information, visit the website at<> or call 601-799-2311.