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The Arboretum’s Swamp Forest Educational Exhibit

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

This past Saturday a brave group of individuals ignored the forecast of a chance of rain and ventured down the 700 foot Swamp Forest pathway that leads from the Arboretum’s Arrival Journey to the Gum Pond at the north end of the public garden.

The trail in the Swamp Forest exhibit parallels, and crosses, a small stream, which is the center of this four-acre educational exhibit. The stream is “intermittent”, meaning it is usually dry, and only during and after rain events will you find flowing water in the channel.

Most of the water on the trail drains quickly into the stream, so the trail is usually just fine for walking. And when the Swamp Forest is wet, that is when it comes alive!

On their journey, the group heard about the construction of the exhibit, and how it restored a natural drainage channel that was altered in the 1930s when the Arboretum property was a strawberry farm. To prepare the wet pine savanna for agriculture use, the natural drainage was reconfigured into a grid pattern of drainage ditches to drain the land.

A sign along the pathway includes a photograph of the stream channel being constructed in 2011. The site contractor was very sensitive to avoiding damage to the forest floor. He installed heavy sheets of plywood so excavation equipment could back out over the boards, barely disturbing the area with the earthwork.

The construction process was a delicate ballet with the heavy equipment. One man constantly followed the digging machine and removed the roots in the channel with his hatchet. When he was finished, the result was a beautifully smooth streambed, waiting for a rain!

Along the pathway we talked about the trees and shrubs that are found in the exhibit. Many of these are evergreen, and great choices for wet areas you may have in your home landscape. If you learn about a dozen plants, you will have learned to identify the majority in this area.

We will continue to add plants to this exhibit in the forest understory. One plant that grounds manager Terry Johnson installed recently was a small vine, planted at the base of a tree near the large peaceful seating deck, called swamp leather flower. It is a native clematis and has a delicate purple bell-shaped bloom in spring and summer.

At the Gum Pond overlook, the walkers were treated to the sight of a new structure being constructed on the shore of the pond, the Rosen Pavilion. This small pavilion, which echoes the design of the Pinecote Pavilion, is a memorial for former Crosby Arboretum board member Yvette Rosen, donated by her family.

From the overlook, we could see several hundred giant blue iris along the shoreline, recently donated by the Greater New Orleans Iris Society, who helped install them. The iris are know for having a spectacular bloom and we are looking forward to seeing them flowering.

The trail passes over a half dozen cypress bridges, which allows walkers to experience the stream. At the southern tip of the exhibit you will discover a wide seating deck. Nearby is a small grove of Atlantic white cedar. Although it is called a cedar, this tree is actually a cypress! The deck just might become your new favorite place to “get away from it all”, so come visit the Swamp Forest soon and learn about the value of this coastal ecosystem.

The Arboretum’s Forge Day is Saturday, January 25 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., featuring blacksmithing and metalworking demonstrations, and is $5 for adults and $2 for children, and free for members.

Visit our winter gallery exhibit, to see stunning nature photography by member Nadine Phillips, on display through February 28.

On Saturday, February 8, come enjoy another winter botany walk with retired MSU Extension Forestry specialist Dr. Glenn Hughes. On his field walk, Dr. Hughes will point out the characteristics of trees evident during the winter months, for example, patterns of tree bark or the shape of buds.

The Arboretum’s Arbor Day plant sale is Saturday, February 15 from 10:00 a.m. to noon. It is still a great time to be plant woody shrubs and trees, as they will still have a few months to establish their root systems.

Call now to reserve your place in programs by calling 601-799-2311. 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. For more information see our program calendar on our website at http://crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu/, where you may sign up for email notices of upcoming events. Remember, leashed pets are always welcome!