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Mississippi’s roadside attractions

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

If you’re like most people, you probably spent some time this past week traveling down area roads to visit friends and family members over the holidays. And if you experienced a particularly long journey, perhaps you were able to delight in the chance to observe the slowly changing vegetation patterns as you moved from one region to another.

During the winter months, I thoroughly enjoy seeing the structural form of deciduous trees revealed as they shed their leaves. With much of the tree’s form being invisible during other times of the year, when in full view, the trunks have a wonderful color palette of muted grays, browns, and greens.

On cloudy days when the sky is painted in gray and white, any warm color will stand out in contrast against the somber, cooler hues, such as the electric orange hues of rusty grasses, or the velvety red drupes arranged in cone-shaped clusters atop staghorn sumac trees.

Sumac trees such as smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) or winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) have a sparsely branched, umbrella-shaped form. Search for the keywords “sumac trees in winter” to get an idea of the winter look of these small trees. Then, you will know when you spot a cluster of them by the roadsides.

As roads cross over a stream or river, you may see American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) growing in the sandy areas along the waterways. The white trunks of the fast-growing sycamore trees offer a strong contrast to the dark branches of other species. On a bright blue day, the tree’s round seed clusters can appear particularly festive!

Although sycamore’s large leaves can make the tree a nuisance on neighborhood lawns, in some people’s eyes, sycamore is right at home in its natural habitat, where its leaves can be whisked along in the water’s current, and bothering no one.

The broad, strong form of mature oak trees are a magnificent sight, whether as a single specimen standing alone in a field, or groups that once flanked a long-gone homestead.

Many species of oaks have leaves that persist on the tree throughout the winter months. That characteristic is called marcescence.  American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) also hold their leaves during the winter, until they are pushed off by emerging spring leaves. Their characteristic form is of drooping leaves, arranged, icicle-like, along their branches.

Come take a walk at the Arboretum, or attend a program. We have so much to offer you this winter!  See our program calendar on the website or pick up a copy at the Visitor Center. Program reservations are requested. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up.

A children’s workshop on making Sock Caterpillars takes place Saturday, January 5 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. Members $4 per child; non-member $6. No charge for adults. That same afternoon enjoy Family Bingo from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. There will be prizes for all ages. Members $2 per person; non- members $3. Both programs include snacks and refreshments.

On Saturday, January 12, from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m., attend the program on Controlling Feral Hogs, a non-native, invasive species which are spreading at an alarming rate and presenting serious issues for property owners. Learn about the types of damage these nuisance wildlife cause and the variety of control options available with Pearl River County Extension Agent Dr. Eddie Smith. The program is free to all.

A Children’s Sign Language Workshop will be held on Saturday, January 19 and Saturday, February 16. Choose from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. or 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Learn basic ASL signs to communicate with the non-hearing or nonverbal person in this workshop with Kim Johnson.  Refreshments and snacks served. $2 per member child; non-member $4. Must be accompanied by parent/guardian (adults, no charge).

A Winter Botany Field Walk will be held Friday, January 25, from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m., with MSU Extension Forestry specialist Dr. Glenn Hughes. Cost is $3 for members and $5 for non-members.

Mark your calendar for our annual Forge Day, Saturday, January 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., which will nclude Lyle Wynn of Brandon, Mississippi, a recent competitor on the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire” series.

See www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu or visit the Crosby Arboretum Facebook page for more information on programs and activities. Come visit us Wednesday through Sunday from 9 to 4.

Leashed pets are welcome. The Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4.