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Come and explore nature at the Crosby Arboretum

By Pat Drackett

Crosby Arboretum Director

Over the holidays, it has been an ongoing pleasure to converse with the visitors who have come to explore the Arboretum. When our front door opens, more likely than not, those who enter are hailing from other part of the country.

Whether they are just “passing by” on the interstate on their travels elsewhere or nature-loving refugees who are visiting relatives and going stir-crazy, what they have in common is their enthusiasm for having finally made it to our public garden.

For some, it is a first look at the plant communities of the coastal South. They can enjoy the subtle aesthetic appeal of the winter landscape, with its muted color palette that causes otherwise minor details, such as the layers of lichens on tree trunks, to become much more noticeable.

For others, it might be a chance to immerse themselves again in the landscape they have lived apart from for so long, perhaps towing a spouse or other relative from a far-away city to experience the scenery – and plants – from earlier days.

Interestingly, many holiday visitors had some connection to the Arboretum through a career such as in landscape architecture or architecture, or an avid interest in botany or ecology. Several were acquainted with our first director, Ed Blake, Jr. It is always a such a joy to hear peoples’ tales of how the Arboretum has inspired them, or how nicely we are coming along.

Although we’ve had a good deal of rainy, overcast days, this didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of our visitors. Discussions abounded on the beauty of the forest in the winter, and how details that went unnoticed at other times of the year were more prominent.

Berries are decorating various species of hollies along the trails, and more winter food awaits wildlife in the many dried seed pods on the herbaceous plants found in our Savanna Exhibit.

One plant I find curious is the sparkleberry, as it still has berries at this time of year, unlike other native blueberries which fruit in the spring. Some may call this plant a huckleberry, the catch-all term for a number of species of Vaccinium found in open forests and along field edges.

Just to confuse you further, sparkleberry is also known as farkleberry. One grows next to our visitor center deck, and you will spot others, often near bridges, on the paths nearby. It is often multi-trunked and has an attractive peeling bark and a form that has inspired more than one visitor to believe they were looking at a gangly crape myrtle.

As you venture down our pathways, you may spot orange and red Amanita mushrooms, covered with their characteristic white warts. These often grow in groupings, and you will have a chance to observe them unfurling at many stages, from small pale nubs to mature, graceful parasols.

Come visit! Winter brings us many days of pleasant weather, perfect for exploring the Arboretum. On Thursdays and Fridays in January and February, you will have an opportunity to observe prescribed burns in the 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.

The Mississippi State University Extension Service website (http://extension.msstate.edu/) has many state-specific publications and resources that will help you choose the appropriate trees and shrubs for your property’s environmental conditions. Enter keywords such as “native trees” or “native shrubs” or “selecting shrubs” or “selecting trees” in the search field to locate research-based information you can trust.

More information on Mississippi native species can be found in Extension publications No.2334, “Native Shrubs for Mississippi Landscapes,” and No. 2330, “Native Trees for Mississippi Landscapes,” two of many informative resources written by former Arboretum curator, Bob Brzuszek. They are available for online viewing or as a PDF for download in the Publications section of the Extension website.

Crosby Arboretum memberships are a wonderful value. If you travel, you’ll be delighted to know that your Arboretum membership also 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, student, and military discounts are available.

Mark your calendar for the Arboretum’s Forge Day on Saturday, Jan. 30 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. You’ll enjoy our annual event featuring blacksmithing and metalworking demonstrations.

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 call 601-799-2311 or see our website at http://crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu/. Leashed pets are always welcome!