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Just what exactly is an Arboretum?

By Pat Drackett

Crosby Arboretum Director

“Just what exactly is an arboretum, anyway?” This is a question we’ve heard from many of our visitors at Crosby Arboretum, who wonder about what they will find here after spotting our signs along the interstate or reading about us in the newspaper. The sign that travelers will see once they pass the I-59 Mississippi Welcome Center includes “Gift Shop.” Those who have a little time to kill will often stop in, being enticed by the sign.

If we had been named the Crosby Botanical Gardens, it’s highly likely that these last two words would have stirred some understanding of what we are all about. Many public gardens include those descriptive words in their title and leave little doubt as to what people will find there.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (https://www.merriam-webster.com) defines an arboretum as a “place where trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes.” We often remind visitors who ask about the word’s definition that it contains the word “arbor,” a clue that we have something to do with trees, and most folks are familiar with the celebration of Arbor Day.

We often simply refer to ourselves as a public garden. Notably, Crosby Arboretum members also have a reciprocal membership through the American Horticultural Society that allows them to visit over 300 other public gardens in the U.S. for free or reduced admission!

When I first started with the Arboretum over a decade ago, I remember people who told me that for years they had believed, because we are a Mississippi State University facility, that we were a research facility and were not open to the public. Sigh.

Thankfully, many since then have ventured down our pathways and discovered there is a visitor center here in the woods, which I view as kind of like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There are so many wonderful things to discover here!

One of my favorite stories is about the group who walked into our visitor center five or so years ago. They had just returned from a trip to Eureka Springs, Arkansas where they had toured the Thorncrown Chapel designed by architect E. Fay Jones. In a conversation with their guide, they were amazed to learn that he knew exactly where Picayune, Mississippi was. In fact, he told them how lucky they were to live so close to the Crosby Arboretum. So they vowed that when they got back home, they would finally pay us a visit.

Our Pinecote Pavilion, located on our 2.5-acre man-made Piney Woods Pond, was also designed by architect E. Fay Jones. It opened to the public in 1986. At this time, our site was still a very young pine savanna. People have told me how awesome it was to park in our lot at Ridge Road and see the Pavilion rising up from the grasslands. We once had a visitor tell us that they got more goosebumps standing in the Pinecote Pavilion than in the Sistine Chapel. Take a spin on your favorite search engine, to discover both the Thorncrown Chapel and our Pinecote Pavilion.

You’ll also find some great, low-maintenance examples of Mississippi native plants species, those which are native to the Pearl River Drainage Basin of Mississippi and Louisiana, and interpretive signage along our trails which point out topics of botanical, cultural or historical interest. If you have never been to the Crosby Arboretum, make a New Year’s resolution that this year, you will change that!

On Thursdays and Fridays in January and February, you’ll have the opportunity to observe a prescribed fire in our Savanna exhibit, if the weather conditions are favorable. Call the Arboretum office around 9:00 a.m. to inquire about whether a burn will be proceeding that day. If you would be interested in volunteering on a burn, ask for Terry Johnson.

Arboretum memberships make perfect gifts, especially for those who travel and like to visit other gardens. An Arboretum membership includes a membership in the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal

Membership Program, giving free or reduced admission to over 300 public gardens in North America. Arboretum memberships are only $35 for an individual membership and $45 for a family membership. Senior, military, first responder, and student discounts are available.

Mark your calendar for the Arboretum’s Forge Day on Saturday, January 30 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. You’ll enjoy this annual event featuring blacksmithing and metalworking demonstrations. Cost is $5 for adults, and $2 for children. This year, pre-registration is required. Call 601-799-2311 to place your name on the list for entry.

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 information on our site, please see www.crosbyarboretum.edu. Leashed pets are always welcome.