Take a winter botany walk with Dr. Glenn Hughes this Saturday

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, February 5, 2020

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

We’ve been waiting all year for this coming Saturday, February 8 and the encore winter botany field trip led by retired MSU Extension Forestry specialist Dr. Glenn Hughes. On his walk from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m., Dr. Hughes will point out characteristics of trees that become more evident during the winter months, for example, the distinctive patterns of tree bark or the shape of buds.

Some plants have thorns or spines that are much more noticeable in winter, such as mayhaw, parsley hawthorn, and southern crabapple, common small trees that flower in the spring. Near the Arboretum Visitor Center, American beech trees are sporting long pointed buds that resemble small cigars. Beech leaves will remain on the branches throughout the winter months, until the emerging leaves push them off in spring. This characteristic, called marcescence, makes them easy to identify in the landscape.

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Hollies are another tree people easily recognize in the winter. The ones at our Visitor Center deck are sporting bright red berries right now. These trees make excellent additions to your landscape for screening views, such as along a property line. American holly can be used as a stand-alone specimen tree in a lawn area, or as an accent in foundation plantings.

The winter months in coastal Mississippi offer a good number of comfortable planting days long before spring officially arrives. To celebrate, the Crosby Arboretum is holding an Arbor Day plant sale featuring woody shrubs and trees for planting. Planting in winter also allows a long period of time for roots to become established before hot weather returns.

The Crosby Arboretum’s Arbor Day plant sale is Saturday, February 15 from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Come take advantage of getting the jump on spring planting, and to talk with Pearl River County Master Gardeners who can help you choose the right plants for your property. The sale will include some special selections of bare root, hard-to-find native flowering trees and shrubs for your pollinator and wildlife garden, for example, redbud, sassafras, black cherry, mayhaw, pawpaw and persimmon.

A special presentation will take place during the sale. Mississippi Master Gardener T.J. Testaman will reveal the secrets to growing pawpaw trees. You will learn about the varieties best suited to this area, how and where to plant pawpaws, grafting methods, hand pollinating, growing them from seed and how to increase fruit yield. Pawpaw trees produce the largest native fruit in the U.S. and are known as “custard apples.” The curious fruits have a tropical flavor and are related to Papaya.

American persimmon is a deciduous native tree that is found throughout the southeastern U.S. It grows in a wide variety of site conditions, ranging from wet bottomland forests, old fields, to dry scrublands or woods, in full to part sun.

At the Arboretum, persimmon is found growing along woodland edges and near the bridges, as well as in our Savanna Exhibit.

Persimmon trees can be identified by their characteristic dark “blocky” bark. Persimmon is in the ebony family and has extremely dense wood. It was once much more famous for being used in making golf club heads but is also still used to flavor meats by smoking.

Persimmon fruit is delicious and sweet when ripe and is enjoyed by humans as well as wildlife. It is also high in nutrients, including potassium. The pulp freezes well, and is used to make a sweet bread, pudding and jam.

Attend “Preparing Your Garden for Spring” on Saturday, February 22, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. with Pearl River County Extension Agent Dr. Eddie Smith who will tell you how to get your garden in order early and help make your spring a little less hectic. Cost for members is $2, and $5 for non-members. Reservations are requested.

Also on February 22, a children’s Nature Crafts workshop will be held from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. They will enjoy this fun activity where they will be working with natural materials to complete a craft project. As children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, there will be no minimum age requirement. Members’ children $4, and non-members’ children $6 (no charge for adults). Space is limited, and reservations are requested.

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!