Arboretum’s prescribed fire season approaches

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, December 27, 2017

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

The Arboretum’s certified burn manager, Terry Johnson, has been checking his gear and eagerly anticipating the arrival of January, which will begin our annual “fire season”. He will soon be leading the prescribed burning of our savanna, or grasslands, at our Picayune interpretive center.

This year Terry’s s plan is to accomplish something I’ve never before experienced in my ten years here – to burn not only our entire 20 acre Savanna Exhibit, but the 40 acre parcel across Ridge Road. Usually, only selected portions of the Arboretum’s twenty acre grassland undergo prescribed fire, although we strive to burn the south Pitcher Plant Bog every year. This encourages a high diversity of blooming perennials in the site’s wettest portion of pine savanna lands.

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Many of the plants found in the coastal plain are “fire-adapted”, having the ability to withstand periodic fires. Applying regular controlled fire in our savannas prevents the growth of small trees and maintains the herbaceous plants (grasses and perennials). This allows visitors to experience an example of a coastal landscape as it would have appeared prior to European settlement.

Prescribed fire also has an effect on the abundance and distribution of pine savanna birdlife, and the burning of our south bog encourages the presence of bird species such as the Henslow’s Sparrow.

With populations in decline over the past 30 years, Henslow’s Sparrow has been identified as a species of conservation concern.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this species is most commonly found in areas burned less than a year, becoming less common on sites burned over a year and a half ago.

Weather permitting, you may observe fire management techniques during the prescribed burns of our savanna. Grounds manager Terry Johnson plans to conduct these events on Thursdays and Fridays in January and February, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call the Arboretum office at 9:00 a.m. to confirm if the environmental conditions are favorable for a burn to proceed, and to register and observe the burn at a safe distance. Members may observe for no charge, and non-members pay the cost of regular admission. Persons under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

To me, one of the most amazing things about our prescribed burns is how quickly the grasslands will recover from fire events. The plants reap the benefit from the nutrients present in the ash, and it doesn’t take long for the blackened areas to turn green again. Also, the ghostly curls of grasses charred by the fire provide some very interesting “photo ops”.

Grassland regeneration is an absolutely amazing process to observe, and this year will be exceptional if we are able to complete the burning of our entire sixty acre pine savanna.

For publications and more information on prescribed fire, visit the Mississippi State University Extension Service website at, and enter the keywords “prescribed fire”.

A prescribed fire workshop will be held Saturday, February 17 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Learn the basics for conducting prescribed burns, including reasons why to manage land through burning, equipment, ignition techniques, fuel types, factors affecting a burn such as weather elements (humidity, temperature, wind), how to plan and conduct a burn: rules, safety precautions, proper technique, regulations, notifications, and burn associations, with Extension Forestry Specialist Dr. Glenn Hughes. Cost is $10 per attendee, which includes refreshments and supplies. Call to sign up: pre-registration is required.

Work by Pearl River County Art League Artists of the Year is our featured winter gallery exhibit, with paintings by Corey Guerra, woodwork by Laura Ousset, and photographs by Eve Mahoney.

Teachers, homeschool educators, and others who function in a teaching capacity, consider attending the free Project WILD teachers’ workshop on Saturday, January 20, with Mississippi Museum of Natural Science Outreach Educator Sabrina Cummings. Sabrina will use wildlife topics to illustrate how to teach subjects across the curriculum. Space is limited, and reservations are requested. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up.

Mark your calendar for our tenth annual Forge Day, which features demonstrations by area blacksmiths and metalworkers. This event will return on the last Saturday in January, on the 27th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Crosby Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, see our schedule of events on our website at