Arboretum Paths: Fall bloomers on the horizon

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, September 27, 2017

By Patricia R. Drackett

Pat is the director of the Crosby Arboretum and  assistant extension professor of landscape architecture with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

The Crosby Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit will soon be offering its last great performance of the year – a period of late fall blooms dominated by purples and yellows of perennials such as asters and swamp sunflowers, set against a backdrop of flowering grasses.

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Although the tall spikes of Liatris spicata, known as blazing star, have begun to set seed, another perennial, called false liatris or bristle leaf chaffhead (Carphephorus pseudoliatris) is in full bloom. Although it resembles liatris, sports purple blooms, and inhabits wet flatwoods, this perennial is much shorter than blazing star and has flowers in flat-topped clusters rather than spikes.

Fall blooms tend to be more long-lasting and durable when used in bouquets, as opposed to spring’s more delicate perennials. One of the most hardy flowers, swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), will soon begin to appear in clusters in low-lying areas and at the base of the slopes along our local roadsides. This plant is well-established in the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit and is very attractive in masses, such as found along our pathways.

If you’re the type of person who’d prefer to spend more time looking at your garden than laboring in it, swamp sunflower is a perfect perennial choice. Do you have an area of your yard that stays consistently moist and has full sun? Take advantage of circumstances that may at first may appear to be a design and maintenance obstacle. Instead, use plants that prefer these conditions!

Swamp sunflower is deer-resistant and salt tolerant, as well as being absolutely gorgeous. Cultivars of the plant with different shades of gold or yellow are available in the trade, such as ‘Mellow Yellow’, ‘First Light’, and ‘Gold Lace’. Some of these cultivars are said to be better suited to regular, or drier, garden soil.

Locate swamp sunflowers in the rear of your perennial bed. They are attractive next to blooms of red, purple, or blue, which offer a nice color contrast. Grasses will also contrast well with the flat-topped blooms of Helianthus.

The Crosby Arboretum Plant Database, hosted by, notes that Helianthus angustifolius is of “special value to native bees” as well as attractive to birds. A member of the Aster family, it is related to other tough species we grow ornamentally for their blooms, such as zinna, dahlia, sunflower, and cosmos. Edible members of the family include lettuce, sunflowers, and artichokes.

The purple flower clusters of deer’s tongue (Carphephorus odoratissimus) are also a welcome fall sight in the Savanna Exhibit, and are abundant in the southern portion of our site near the Pitcher Plant Bog. Another common name for this plant is vanilla plant because of the odor when its dried leaves are crushed. In “olden days” the leaves were harvested and used as a flavoring ingredient for pipe tobacco.

Found in wet flatwoods, deer’s tongue maintains its evergreen rosette of leaves throughout the winter months and will grow in both full sun to part shade. Growing to about three or four feet tall, the plant is attractive to bees, birds, and butterflies.

Mark your calendar for the Arboretum’s fall plant sale on October 21 and 22 (Saturday and Sunday). October is an excellent month for planting trees and shrubs so that they have time to gain a foothold through establishing strong roots, and reward you with a strong performance in the next growing season.

On your next visit, enjoy the current gallery exhibit by Poplarville artist and writer Erlene Smith, whose work will be on display through the end of November.

We still have a few spaces left in the Smart Phone Photography Workshop with Diana Thornton on September 30 in both the 10 AM and 1 PM programs. The workshop is open to ages 12 and up and is limited to 12 persons. Cost for non-members is $7.

Learn how to design low-care landscapes on Saturday, October 7, 10:00 to Noon. Save money and reduce labor and energy needs and meet some drought-tolerant, attractive native plant species that will reduce your maintenance needs, with Pearl River County Extension Agent Dr. Eddie Smith and Arboretum Director Pat Drackett. Members free, non-members $7. Reservations requested. That afternoon from 1:00 to 2:30 PM, enjoy a yoga program on Pinecote Pavilion with certified yoga instructor, James Sones. Members free, $5 non-members. Reservations are requested, as space is limited.

Call 601-799-2311 to sign up for programs. The Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road. See www.crosbyarboretum.msstate for more information.