Piney Woods Heritage Festival this Saturday

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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

The Crosby Arboretum’s 17th annual Piney Woods Heritage Festival will take place this Saturday, November 16.  Make plans to come out to the Arboretum to enjoy music and dance performances, exhibitors, demonstrations, and displays of traditional skills and crafts that day from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

All ages are sure to find something to interest you at the festival.

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This is an excellent opportunity to talk with exhibitors about the skills they will be demonstrating.  Bob Rouse will again be displaying one of his pineywoods cattle and relate how he is contributing to the preservation of this heritage breed.

Bob’s family has a long history in Pearl River County and his exhibit usually also contains a wealth of information about the early timber industry.

Pineywoods cattle are descended from those brought to this country by the Spanish in the 1500’s. They are highly tolerant of heat and humidity, and through natural selection have developed into the characteristic tough breed that has adapted to the extremes of our region’s climate. They are very disease and parasite-resistant, and easy to keep. These cattle played an important role in the timber industry of the Southeast, as they were used in hauling timber.

Bob has an old trough he found on his land, once used to gather the pine resin that was distilled to make turpentine, and a portion of a pine tree trunk with the V-shaped markings the harvesters had slashed into the tree to extract the sap. Slash pine and longleaf pine in particular were tapped in this manner for the turpentine industry.

You may hear some stories about how plants were used in pioneer days. Have you ever heard of sweetgum being referred to as the “toothbrush” tree? The twigs were sometimes used by early settlers to fashion a toothbrush.

They would chew on them until the fibers separated, and use this “brush” to clean their teeth.

Sweetgum is an easy tree to identify because its leaves are distinctly star-shaped, usually having 5 and sometimes 7 lobes. Another identifying feature is its tendency to have corky protrusions, or “wings” on the twigs.

Its leaf buds are very shiny and when crushed, the leaves are aromatic. Another name for sweetgum is alligator-tree, because on older trees the bark is deeply furrowed.

Sweetgum is a tough and highly adaptable tree found on a wide variety of soils. A “pioneer” species, it will often be seen growing in open fields.

It grows best in full sun, but tolerates light shade. Although somewhat drought-resistant, it does best on moist bottomland sites. When given ideal conditions, sweetgum will grow as much as 100 feet, developing into a beautiful specimen tree.

The 2016 edition of “Mississippi Trees” produced by the Mississippi Forestry Commission and the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University ( describes sweetgum is one of the most valuable commercial hardwoods in the Southeast, in regard to the volume of timber produced. This tree provides pulp, veneer and lumber, and used in cabinetry, home interiors, boxes and utensils.

Sweetgum, red maple, sumac, witch hazel, and bald cypress, have been blazing along Arboretum pathways. The fall color of sweetgum and red maple are really standing out along area roadsides, cloaked in bright crimson, yellow, and purple.

Learn more about native plants of the Piney Woods region this Saturday at the Piney Woods Heritage Festival, along with many other activities to keep you mesmerized including musical performances and exhibitors displaying traditional skills and crafts such as quilting, butter churning, dulcimer playing, and more.

Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children, and admission is free for Arboretum members.

A children’s nature crafts workshop will be held Saturday, November 23 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m., and a fall botany field walk will take place the same day from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Learn about the native plant species that grow in this four acre educational exhibit and enjoy a stroll along the700’ Swamp Forest Trail that journeys northward to the gum pond.

Our fall gallery exhibit features photography by Jenny Bibb Ryals and runs through November 30. To sign up for programs, call 601-799-2311. For more information, please see our Facebook page or the program calendar on our website at

The Crosby Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. Leashed pets are always welcome!