Arboretum Paths: Signs of fall

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, August 1, 2018

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

Yes, you heard that right! Even though you might think we’re still firmly in the midst of summer, over the past week I’ve seen evidence, and heard a lot of comments about the native plants blooming now that are heralds of the coming fall.

On our recent visit to the Arboretum’s Hillside Bog natural area, located about seven miles east of the Arboretum, Curator Jennifer Buchanan and I observed a patch of Leconte’s thistle (Cirsium lecontei) in the early stages of developing its magnificent buds. Soon, the rounded buds will become more elongated, before they burst into their gorgeous purple blooms.

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Unlike the common thistles seen along area roadsides in the spring, Leconte’s thistle blooms are usually single, held on tall, slender stems. And, rather than being prickly, their stems are smooth, and without leaves. In a few weeks, we look forward to making a visit to see this plant again and hoping it will be in full bloom. Most likely, we will have the chance to watch swallowtail and other butterflies flit from flower to flower in the small population of thistles at the hillside natural area.

An uncommon species, this coastal perennial thistle is not only of value to pollinators, but is considered of “special concern” in the state of Mississippi.

Grounds manager Terry Johnson has been keeping his eyes peeled to spot the first pine lily (Lilium catesbaei) blooming among the savanna grasses. They are named for an English naturalist who visited America in 1712 and spent seven years documenting the plants and animals.

Pine lilies are a single huge scarlet bloom, held atop a thin, almost leafless stalk. They are ephemeral, so if you drag a friend back to see the stunning bloom the next day it will most likely be fading away, so it is best to appreciate these unusual plants when first spotted.

Last week, I enjoyed a cart ride with Terry to check out the first few bloom spikes of the year of Liatris spicata that he’d seen in the North Savanna. Soon, you may be seeing this plant blooming along local roadsides.

Next to the Liatris we saw some particularly large blooms of yellow-eyed grass (Xyris). Terry pointed out that in the morning, the blooms will appear much larger due to the petals being freshly opened. As the day goes by, the petals will shrivel in the head, and appear smaller.

Butterflies will soon be flocking to the Liatris growing in the North and South Pitcher Plant Bogs. In the South Bog, where it is much moister, large numbers of water cowbane (Oxypolis filiformis) are blooming. The leaves and flowers of this plant will soon be devoured by hungry black swallowtail caterpillars emerging from eggs laid by adult female butterflies. And once these caterpillars construct their chrysalises and develop into butterflies, the adults will be feasting upon the nectar-rich Liatris flowers.

Programs coming up at the Arboretum in August include Summer Smart Landscapes on August 4, from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. The topic will be how to create gardens that thrive in summer’s heat.
In this program, you will learn wise maintenance and landscaping practices to conserve resources and energy and create eco-friendly home landscapes that will reduce summer maintenance needs, as well as native plant species that can strengthen local biodiversity in this program with Pearl River County Extension Agent Dr. Eddie Smith and Arboretum Director Pat Drackett. Reservations are requested. The program is free for members and $5 for non-members.

A summer native plant field walk will be held Saturday, August 25, from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up for programs and reserve your place.

Crosby Arboretum memberships are now half price as we are halfway through the year. One of the many benefits of an Arboretum membership is the opportunity for you to visit over 300 U.S. public gardens for free or reduced admission through the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Program. Just present your Crosby Arboretum membership card.

For more information on our activities and visiting the Crosby Arboretum, see<>. We are located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).