Arboretum Paths: It’s time for a burn!

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Arboretum is gearing up for the prescribed fire season that takes place each winter in January and February  (Crosby Arboretum archive photo).

The Arboretum is gearing up for the prescribed fire season that takes place each winter in January and February
(Crosby Arboretum archive photo).

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

Very soon, grounds manager Terry Johnson will be conducting his first prescribed burn at the Arboretum. If weather conditions cooperate, in the next few weeks you may see that portions of our Savanna Exhibit look quite different, and blackened by fire.

Every year, we burn selected portions of our pine savanna, and this contributes to these areas’ high botanical diversity as well as the beautiful perennials Arboretum visitors enjoy throughout the year, such as scarlet pine lilies, native orchids, purple blazing stars, and lemon yellow pitcher plant blooms in the early spring that locals call “buttercups”.

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Terry and his “burn crew” are usually able to burn our south pitcher plant bog yearly, while other areas of the property may be burned only every two or three years.

The Arboretum uses fire as a tool to manage the savanna, which contains grasses and perennials that are “fire-adapted”, withstanding periodic fires, typical of coastal landscapes. The application of regular controlled fire in these areas reduces the growth of small trees and maintains the herbaceous plants in an early stage of development.

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) have been planted in our twenty acre savanna, along with the pre-existing pines, which are slash pines (Pinus elliottii). While slash is also a longleaf pine, the pine that is called “longleaf” has branches that are thick and candelabra, and much longer needles than slash pine.

You can see examples of longleaf pine at a variety of stages of growth at the Arboretum. What a sight it would have been to see forests of these mature trees hundreds of years ago! Longleaf pine forests once covered more than 90 million acres along the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains.

When John Muir made his walk through the southeast in the 1860’s, these forests were already disappearing. Today, only about three percent of the longleaf ecosystem remains.

This coming Saturday, January 14, longleaf pine needles will be put to good use in the basket-making workshops with Stone County Extension Agent Dr. Judy Breland. As her first workshop quickly filled, she kindly agreed to open an afternoon workshop, and this has also been filling fast. Here, you can learn the techniques to carry on this heritage craft and to truly “make something from nothing” – Pearl River County has a wealth of pine trees!

Weather permitting, prescribed burn demonstrations will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays in January and February. You may assist, or observe fire management techniques during the prescribed burning of the Crosby Arboretum’s savanna areas.

If you are interested in volunteering for a burn, call the office at 601-799-2311 and ask for Terry Johnson. For observation opportunities, call prior to coming out to the Arboretum to confirm if the event will be proceeding. Admission is free for arboretum members and $5 for non-members. Persons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Learn how to “Prepare Your Garden for Spring” with Pearl River County Extension Agent Dr. Eddie Smith on Saturday, January 21. Our annual Forge Day returns on Saturday, January 28. Forge Day returns on Saturday, January 28. Join us for an exciting day of demonstrations by area metalworkers and craftsmen! Members free. Non-members pay site admission, $5 for adults, and $2 for children. Our winter gallery exhibit features Pearl River Paintings by Carriere artist Jeanie Latiolais, on display through the end of February.

For more information on upcoming activities and events, see our winter schedule on the website at Call 601-799-2311 to make program reservations. The Arboretum is located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road and is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information on prescribed fire, visit the Mississippi State Extension website at to download Publication 2283, “Prescribed Burning in Southern Pine Forests”. You may access other information by enter the keywords “prescribed fire” in the search engine of the site’s homepage.