Arboretum Paths: Mississippi’s native milkweeds have returned

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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

We experienced a fun and informative walk in the pitcher plant bog Saturday, learning about the various species of native orchids in bloom with orchid enthusiast Glen Ladnier, who led a program that day. Not only did we see these beauties, but we encountered many other surprises!

You can take a walk every week in the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit, and it will be different every time. New blooms appear constantly on the many species of wildflowers growing there. Such pine savanna habitats have a very high species diversity, meaning, there are many different kinds of plants growing closely together.

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This high diversity, and the constantly changing show of blooms is what inspires visitors to return again and again to participate in the shifting patterns and colors of the savanna landscape.

In a few weeks, the pitcher plant bog will transform to a sea of pink, as hundreds of pink meadow beauty (Rhexia) flowers unfold. In a few months, within that grass matrix you’ll see thousands upon thousands of “polka dots” – the long-stemmed white bog buttons (Eriocaulon), also called ladies’ hatpins.

Saturday’ most exciting emergence for me was the return of one of the two species of milkweed that grow in our bog – fewflower milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata). Its tall, bright red-orange flowers tower above the savanna grasses.

Fewflower milkweed has increased greatly here over the past ten years. A beautiful cluster has erupted in bloom next to our bog boardwalk, and other flowers can be spotted throughout the exhibit.

Over the past few years, we’ve been marking some of our milkweed plants for a research project. This year, we hope that all of the plants will remain in our bog. Because of their bright color, they really stand out. Last year, “plant rustlers” unfortunately removed all of these milkweed plants near our pathways that we had marked with pink tape, cutting them off cleanly at the base.

By removing the flowers, these plants did not have the opportunity to set seed for our garden trials at the South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville. We surmised the poachers had stolen the plants for floral arrangements. As the milkweed is found in other moist areas of Pearl River County, we hope that this year they will seek material elsewhere.

Are you a fan of monarchs and milkweed? The Crosby Arboretum website has launched a brand new “Mississippi Milkweeds” page. You will find this page on the Crosby Arboretum website under the “About” menu tab. The page keys to a Facebook page with the same name.

The Facebook site is intended to promote the public exchange of information about our state’s native milkweed species, for example, plant identification, sources for milkweed, and propagation and cultivation. The featured photo currently displayed shows the orange fewflower milkweed in our south bog.

The Arboretum’s website page features a description of the garden trials being conducted at the Poplarville Experiment Station, and a poster illustrating the fifteen most common milkweed (Asclepias) species and their habitat preferences. Another poster summarizes last year’s milkweed garden trials.

If the subject of monarchs and milkweed interests you, visit these pages. Do some research, and study range maps to learn the distribution within the state of various milkweed species. We plan to offer much more information, and future programs, on the topic.

On Saturday, May 6, children will enjoy a Mother’s Day Paint-a-Pot workshop, painting and planting a terra cotta pot, a perfect gift for moms who love plants! Members’ children $4; non-members’ children $5.

The Arboretum will host two new, and free, teachers’ workshops, conducted by outreach educator Sabrina Cummings, Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. These are open to all types of teachers, including volunteers, 4-H leaders, and others in teaching roles. K-12 educators are eligible for CEU’s.

The Project Magnolia teachers’ workshop is Saturday, April 29 from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM and will provide a working knowledge of Mississippi native plants, with activities and materials designed by Mississippi botanists to teach botany across the curriculum.

A Sharing Nature teachers’ workshop will be held Saturday, June 3 from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. The training will facilitate children and adults deepen their relationship with nature, using creative, life-changing nature activities.

For more information, see Call 601-799-2311 to sign up for programs. The Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).