Mississippi wildflowers gearing up for a fall show

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, August 23, 2017

By Patricia R. Drackett, Director and Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture
The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University Extension Service
On last week’s native plant field walk through the Arboretum grounds, we ended the journey in the south pitcher plant bog. As promised, the colors, patterns, and variety of the blooming perennials on this last stop diverted our attention from the sultry summer weather, at least for a few minutes. The group enjoyed exploring the incredible diversity of the fascinating plant species carpeting the floor, which are intertwined with clusters of yellow pitcher plants.
At certain times during the year, this slice of the Crosby Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit features certain species of plants in abundant flower, and their color will dominate the bog during peak bloom. The show beings in early spring, following an annual application of prescribed fire in January or February, with a sea of pendulous yellow petals of the pitcher plant flowers that dangle on delicate stems above the bare soil.
Later, the scene transitions to a kaleidoscope of various shades of pink and yellow. It’s a delight to visit the bog throughout the year and experience the landscape change from month to month, shifting through colors and patterns as the various wildflowers ebb and flow, and dominate the bog.
It’s impossible to predict what a field walk will include. Each journey will bring a different combination of hue and pattern. It’s much like attending a concert and not knowing the music selection beforehand!
From year-to-year, species densities will shift, and the resulting patterns will change. One species of plant may dominate and take center stage in the savanna, depending on the year’s weather conditions that will affect the fluctuations of water stored in the pitcher plant bog.
One year the pitcher plants clusters shriveled up, turning brown and crispy due to a season of drought. At other times, the bog might be completely under water for days or weeks at a time. I remember a spring when the bog became a lake, and the large spherical pitcher plant buds hung over the water which reflected the blue sky.
During the past few weeks we seem to be in a season of rest, a time of gathering energy for the coming season of lively fall bloom, a fireworks display of swamp sunflower and purple asters.
As one of the most dynamic seasons in the savanna will soon be here, make your plans now to visit during this dramatic time of year, when hundreds of purple Liatris spikes will erupt, and the south bog will be in constant motion with many types of dancing butterflies, as they sip from the blooms.
The butterflies you may see include several species of swallowtails, Gulf fritillaries, monarchs, common buckeyes, sulphurs, and skippers. There are so many informative sites on the Internet, for example, Butterflies and Moths of North America (https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/). Here, you can view photos, learn more about them, and even report your sightings. Download a fact sheet, “Attracting Butterflies to Mississippi Gardens,” at the Extension website (http://extension.msstate.edu/).
If you enjoy nature photography, mark your calendar for a visit to the Arboretum this fall. Bring your camera and experience our Savanna Exhibit on Saturday, September 9, for a morning mushroom walk with biology teacher Dr. Juan Mata from the University of South Alabama.
In the afternoon, Pearl River County artist and writer Erlene Smith will present a program and an opening event for her fall gallery exhibit. The opening event will follow her program, and is free to the public. Our fall calendar will be available shortly. Please see our website for details.
Most Arboretum programs or events are only $5 for non-members. This is a small investment for the valuable information you will receive! Call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311 to sign up and guarantee your space. If classes have filled, walk-ins will not be accepted, to avoid overcrowding.
As it is halfway through the year, Arboretum memberships are half price! Join at the reduced rate of $15 for an individual and $20 for a family membership. Call the office to purchase your membership by phone. For more information, see www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. The Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).

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