Arboretum Paths: Arboretum phenology training this Saturday

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2018

By Patricia Drackett

Director of the Crosby Arboretum, assistant extension professor at Mississippi State University Extension Service.

This Saturday, the Crosby Arboretum, in partnership with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will host a general volunteer training session called Nature’s Notebook, a national phenology program designed to prepare professional and citizen scientists to record long-term observations of plant and animal life stages.

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Phenology is the study of the timing of the biological events in plants and animals, such as flowering, leafing, hibernation, migration and reproduction. The workshop offers an excellent opportunity for Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, and other outdoor lovers, to learn how they can observe, record, and report changes occurring along the Gulf Coast Phenology Trail.

The Gulf Coast Phenology Trail is a system of monitoring stations that seek to better understand the phenology of the region’s plant species, and motivated volunteer observers are currently being sought to join the effort.

Ecologist Sue Wilder with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Lacombe, LA has been guiding the Arboretum in establishing their own phenology trail. She has been walking the trails with Arboretum curator Jennifer Buchanan, and together they have chosen the plant species along the journey to be monitored for a variety of seasonal changes. These changes will be observed and recorded, and the data will be entered into a plant profile via a smart phone app to a national site.

An example outlined on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife site ( gives an example of how such data could be used to provide better methods of managing invasive plants like the Chinese tallow tree. By having a better understanding of when this tree is leafing out, a time when most of its resources are stored in its leaves rather than its roots, managers can determine the best times to treat this plant with prescribed fire.

Plants at the Arboretum chosen for the phenology trail include the Elliott’s blueberry, a native shrub that is easily identified by its delicate, green, lacy branches. Known locally as a “huckleberry”, this plant usually begins to flower in January. Because it is one of the few plants to bloom very early, it has a high value to our local native bee species, which will forage the blueberry blossoms for nectar.

Red maple is another of the plant species that will be monitored on the phenology trail. On our walk this past Friday with Sue and Jennifer, we were delighted to find its brilliant red flowers emerging along a maple branch.

Care was taken to select a maple tree having branches low enough to be able to observe the seasonal changes, as the flowers and fruit (a two-winged samara) on the tree are often held high above one’s head. They may actually be easier to observe from your car window on a drive through Pearl River County, where you will soon find yourself passing by these trees. Perhaps you will do a double-take at their beauty when they are covered in scarlet flowers, and later, fruit.

The Nature’s Notebook program will take place this Saturday, February 17 from 9:00 AM to Noon. Although the training is free, pre-registration and a brief commitment to help monitor our coastal trails is required.  For more information, visit or visit the Gulf Coast Phenology Trail Facebook page. Class size is limited, and reservations are required. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife website includes more information on the project, including a list of focal species, examples of questions that information collected from observations hopes to answer, and a map illustrating coastal trail locations.

The Crosby Arboretum welcomes local persons interested in this subject to become volunteer observers along our trails. To learn more about volunteer opportunities along the other coastal trails, contact the Trail Coordinator at<>.

Prescribed fire demonstrations are potentially available at the Arboretum on Thursdays and Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. through February, weather permitting. If interested, please call the office by 9:00 a.m. on the day you would like to attend to confirm the event is proceeding and you may observe at a safe distance. Admission is free for members and $5 for non-members.  Persons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

The Crosby Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 AM to 5 PM. For more information, see