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We’re hoping for some “fire on the ground” this week!

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

With the soggy weather we’ve been experiencing, it has really served to “rain on the parade” for the Arboretum’s prescribed burn season. The sunny weather we have been so sparingly treated to only teases us, before the rain returns!

Grounds supervisor and certified burn manager Terry Johnson has been ready for getting “fire on the ground” but has not yet been able to proceed with his January and February burning, the months we typically conduct prescription burns in portions of our 20-acre Savanna Exhibit.

Terry also burns our 40-acre parcel across Ridge Road, and a portion of the longleaf pine forest at our 70-acre Hillside Bog Natural Area, approximately 8 miles east of us off Highway 43 in northern Hancock County. This parcel is perhaps the most spectacular of the Crosby Arboretum natural areas and consists of 70 acres in northern Hancock County. Fire plays an especially important role in maintaining this site, which contains over 240 species of plants, and includes an expansive hillside pitcher plant bog.

Contrary to what you may think, using fire as a management tool doesn’t harm the native plants in the savannas, which are adapted to a fire-climax ecosystem. Prescribed burning results in the enhancement of their growth and reproduction.

As we missed the chance to burn the Arboretum’s south pitcher plant bog last year due to a rainy winter, this area is chock-full of grasses, which displace the presence of perennial blooms. The usual late summer/early fall show of purple-spiked Liatris, for example (known as gayfeather or blazing star), wasn’t showy at all. We’re hoping we don’t miss the window to burn the south bog this year, because it is such a delight of color and pattern for visitors to enjoy. But once the heads of the pitcher plant blooms begin to develop, the opportunity to burn is over.

After a short rest, tufts of charred grass push forth new shoots, and a non-stop season of blooms will begin. If the pitcher plants are crowded by grasses, there will be no lovely spring carpet of “buttercups”, the blooms of the yellow pitcher plants which flower before the hollow leaves emerge.

Observing the new plants unfurling from blackened earth after a “dose” of prescribed fire is an awesome experience! Look for the coin-sized carnivorous sundews pressed flat against the bare earth. These spoon-shaped leaves glisten with sticky ruby “jewels” and are visible for only a short period of time.

For more information about controlled fire, see the Mississippi State University Extension Service website (http://extension.msstate.edu/) to download publication no. 2283, “Prescribed Burning in Southern Pine Forests.”

You don’t need tons of space to grow vegetables! Did you know you can grow many varieties of vegetables in containers?  Come learn all about it at the “Vegetable Gardening in Containers” program on Friday, March 6, from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. with Dr. Eddie Smith, MSU Pearl River County Coordinator/Extension Agent. Learn some great tips to get you started on the road to success with container-grown vegetables. Program is free to Arboretum members and $5 for non-members.

On Saturday, March 7, from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. enjoy a yoga class with certified yoga instructor James Sones in the beautiful natural setting of Pinecote Pavilion followed by short meditation sitting. Class is limited to 16.  Please arrive 10 minutes early. Members free, non-members $5. Reservations requested.

An “Introduction to Nature Sketching” program will be held Saturday, March 7, 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. with local artist Robin Veerkamp. Learn the basic skills for sketching in nature, and the confidence to explore this fun and rewarding pastime. Members free, non-members $5. Following the class, from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m., there will be a free opening event for Robin’s spring gallery exhibit at the Arboretum Visitor Center.

Picayune fine artist Robin Veerkamp works in colored pencils and chalk pastels, and specializes in drawing architecture, plants, animals and landscapes from original photography. Many images are inspired by the beauty of Crosby Arboretum, where she worked for over a decade. Robin teaches nature sketching throughout the year at the Arboretum. The exhibit is on display through May 31.

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 can sign up for email notices of upcoming events. Remember, your leashed pets are always welcome!