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Native plants that thrive in the summer heat

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

Many of Mississippi’s wildflowers are right at home in hot, wet environments such as the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit, or in dry soil conditions. Do you have an area of your property that is difficult to landscape in a traditional manner? You may want to consider letting it go a “little bit wild”.

When I drive down Ridge Road along our public garden’s site perimeter, I enjoy experiencing just such a wild landscape in the road right of ways. Among the perennials and grasses, it’s a lot of fun to pick out the various species of wildflowers that are blooming. Throughout the late spring and summer, several types of pink meadow beauties (Rhexia) glow, having seemingly escaped the nearby meadow.

While they may at first seem out of place, these plants have simply found a happy niche containing the conditions it prefers to take root and flourish, although this may only be the case for a decade or so, until the surrounding tree canopy become dense enough to crowd out the sunlight these savanna species prefer.

Right now, our Savanna Exhibit is lush with summer growth. Although the perennials here are not in as abundant bloom as would be the case if we had been able to conduct a prescribed fire in our pitcher plant bog, it is still a treat to pick out the flowering perennials. Bog yellow-eyed grass (Xyris) is one of my favorites. On a walk through the south bog, these tall thin stems that are topped with yellow flowers on heads shaped like tiny pine cones are quite a sight!

Another thin-stemmed flower common to the bog is lady’s hatpin (Eriocaulon). Also known as pipewort or bog buttons, the unusual flower is found in great profusion here, giving the savanna landscape appearance of standing in a swaying sea of polka dots.

Look closely, as you may spot a few orange-red blooms of fewflower milkweed (Asclepias), another bloom conspicuously held high on stems that are 3 to 4 feet in height.

Flowers in the grasslands range from the tall to the tiny. Five species of petite candy root (Polygala) are common along our pathways. They are found in shades of pink, white, purple, yellow and orange. Typically ranging from around two to six inches tall, these plants are also called milkworts or drumheads. They also have unusually shaped blooms that are attractive to butterflies such as skippers that sip their nectar, and are called candy root because the roots have an aroma like wintergreen candy.

Another diminutive late summer perennial seen along the trails is the pineland rayless goldenrod (Bigelowia). Although it is has the appearance of a goldenrod, it is actually in the Aster family. The branching structure of this plant has a delicate appearance. To learn more about these species, refer to the Native Plant Data Base on the Crosby Arboretum home page at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu.

The program on Landscaping with Native Plants planned for this past Saturday was cancelled due to rain but has been rescheduled for Saturday, August 17, from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Learn how to create a low-maintenance and attractive home landscape by incorporating native plant species into your yard with Arboretum Director Pat Drackett. The program is $2 for members and $5 for non-members $5.

A kids’ workshop on “Tiny Gardening” will be held Friday, July 26, 11:00 a.m. to Noon.

Children will learn about small space gardening through fun hands-on activities in this workshop led by Dr. Christine Coker, Associate Research and Extension Professor of Urban Horticulture.  Members’ children $2; non-member children $4. Children must be accompanied by parent or guardian; no charge for adults.

On Saturday, July 27, 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. attend a program on “Native and Invasive Plants of Louisiana and Mississippi”. David Baker, Environmental Curator of A Studio in the Woods/Tulane ByWater Institute. Learn about our region’s native and invasive species and the impact that events such as hurricanes have on their movement and growth.

Members $3, non-members $5. Reservations requested for all programs, please call 601-799-2311 to sign up now for programs. While you are visiting the Arboretum, check out the beautiful pencil drawings by talented local artist Robin Veerkamp, which will be on display in the Arboretum gallery through the end of August.

For more information on programs, please see the Crosby Arboretum website. Our public garden is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. Leashed pets are welcome.