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Celebrating winter at the Crosby Arboretum

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

Native plant communities can benefit from burning, and every winter the Crosby Arboretum demonstrates this fact by incorporating prescribed fire as a management tool. Our Savanna Exhibit displays species which are adapted to a fire ecosystem.

At the Arboretum, we burn selected portions of the Savanna Exhibit yearly, creating an outdoor classroom containing a variety of stages of the burned grasslands. Some of these stages provide a more desirable habitat than others for certain species of birds.

What is the relationship between birds and prescribed burning? Well, if you were a Henslow’s sparrow, you would be found in your highest numbers in grassland areas which had experienced a fire event around three or four years ago. After that, your populations would decrease in these areas. The reduced frequency of the occurrence of fire in has been one factor that has contributed to the decline in this species of sparrow.

Certified Burn Manager Terry Johnson has been checking his equipment and preparing for another “fire season” at the Arboretum! If you’d like to learn more about prescribed burning, you will have an excellent opportunity to learn more about fire management techniques through observing one of our prescribed burns this winter. Terry monitors the environmental conditions for each Thursday and Friday in January and February. If conditions are favorable, the burn will proceed. Admission is free. Please call the Arboretum office to sign up. Persons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

The burns usually take place between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. If you’d like to volunteer to assist with a burn, please call the Arboretum office. Arrive about an hour prior to the event time to confirm it will be proceeding. Wear old clothes and boots, dress for the weather, and bring a lunch.

Prescribed burning of the Savanna Exhibit allows visitors to experience a coastal pine savanna much as it would have appeared centuries ago. These grasslands are rich in herbaceous plant species, and provide a range of patterns that change with the seasons, from delicate pitcher plant blooms unfurling from early spring’s charred grasses to spring and summer’s yellow and pink, and the purples and golds in fall.

The Mississippi State University Extension Service website at http://extension.msstate.edu/ has some outstanding publications on the use of prescribed fire. See Publication 2262, “When Will a Prescribed Burn Help my Fire Stand?” and Publication 2283, “Prescribed Burning in Southern Pine Forests”. Chapter 10 on Prescribed Fire in Publication 2470, “Managing the Family Forest in Mississippi” offers an excellent summary of the topic.

Many publications are available on the MSU Extension website to help you with gardening and landscape design and maintenance, as well as identifying and using Mississippi native plant species on your property.

The American beech trees along the pathways near the visitor, as well as some of the oaks can be observed holding fast to their leaves that turned brown. American beech is more frequently found in northern climates, although it also occurs as far south as our coastal areas, where it is often seen growing in companionship with southern magnolia trees. Because it holds onto its old leaves until they are pushed off by the emerging leaves in the spring, it can be easily spotted in the forest understory.

Winter will bring many days of pleasant weather, perfect for exploring the Arboretum. Plan to walk our grounds over the holidays. We are open Wednesday through Sunday over the holidays with the exception of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

Consider giving the gift of an Arboretum membership, which also includes a membership in the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Membership Program, providing free or reduced admission to over 250 public gardens in North America. Arboretum memberships are $35 for an individual membership and $45 for a family membership.

Start the year off right and make plans to attend our yoga class on Saturday, January 11 on the Pinecote Pavilion from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. The cost is $2 for members and $5 for non-members. Remember to stop by and see the winter gallery exhibit opening featuring nature photography by Nadine Phillips, which is on display through February 28.

Mark your calendar for the Arboretum’s Forge Day on Saturday, January 25 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. You will enjoy this annual event featuring blacksmithing and metalworking demonstrations. And join us in celebrating Mississippi Arbor Day at our Arbor Day Plant Sale on Saturday, February 15 from 10:00 a.m. to Noon (members enter at 9:00 a.m.).

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!