Arboretum Paths: Crosby Arboretum plant exhibits heralding spring and our Arbor Day Plant Sale!

Published 8:33 pm Monday, February 5, 2024

By Pat Drackett

The Crosby Arboretum/MSU Extension Service


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Although gardening tasks may not be on your mind quite yet this the perfect time for adding new plants, especially woody species, in the landscape.  Planting in late winter allows us to get a jump on the coming hot weather, which can be a stressful period for recently installed plants.  At our Arbor Day Native Plant Sale from 10:00 a.m. to noon next Saturday, February 17, you will find a great selection of trees and shrubs, and a few perennials, for your home landscaping projects.

Warmer weather has been a welcome change lately, along with sunny and blue days that are excellent conditions for a stroll.  I’ve already spotted mayhaw trees blooming in the nearby swampy areas to the south along I-59.  Winter walks at the Arboretum last week made it crystal clear that spring has already begun its awakening in the exhibits!  While early blooms can be a bit more subtle and require an eagle eye to pick them out, it won’t be long before the warmer temperatures give a final push and the season of non-stop blooms begins.

Elliott’s blueberry (Vaccinium elliottii) is found along the pathways, and its delicate green branches are festooned with tiny pink bell-shaped blooms. Foraging bees appreciate finding these early flowers!  In fall, this shrub has beautiful burgundy and scarlet fall color, characteristic of blueberries, and is one of several species we commonly call a “huckleberry”.  You’ll find Elliot’s blueberry growing both along our shady pathways as well as in sunnier areas along the trails bordering the Savanna Exhibit.  Its delicate nature reminds me of Nandina, a common ornamental landscape plant that has become invasive in some parts of the U.S.  The blueberry’s flowers are followed by small but very tasty fruit in May (another common name is “Mayberry”), outstanding additions to pancakes and muffins, or for jam.  I believe that feature alone puts it high above Nandina!

Be on the lookout for the soon-to-arrive maroon tentacle-like blooms of the red star anise shrubs near the Visitor Center, also called starbush or Florida anise.  Although a plant can have many common names, it has only one Latin name – Illicium floridanum.  Take a spin on your favorite Internet search engine to see this unusual bloom.  Maybe you’ll recognize it as a shrub you have in your own local woods!

Starbush grows in a similar type of location where Camelias prosper.  It prefers a shady understory forest, in moist but well-drained conditions.  I’ve seen it growing locally on the shady, high banks of rivers and streams, where it spreads by colonizing.

Red maple (Acer rubrum) is flowering high above your head when you stroll our paths.  You may not notice them until wind or rain knocks them to the ground or you see them from a bridge looking down on the treetops.  Easy to grow, red maple thrives in a variety of site conditions and soil pH in full sun as well as in shade.  Although the tree is characteristic of moist areas, it will do equally well on much drier sites.

Please note we now have an online registration system for programs. To access the system, go to Select “Events” to view our event calendar. Select your program to access the description and link to the registration page. For questions, call 601-799-2311, Ext. 0.

The next program in our Living off the Land Foraging Series is “Wild Medicinal Plants” Saturday, February 10, from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.  Learn about plants in field and forest, and along roadsides and their history of ethnobotanical uses with Sandi Wicklund, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Interpretive Refuge Volunteer. Registration required.  Cost is $10 for members and $15 for non-members.

Our Arbor Day Native Plant Sale is Saturday, February 17 from 10:00 a.m. to Noon. Members enter one hour early, at 9:00 a.m.  That same day, Linda Auld, the NOLA BugLady, will present “Plant it and They Will Come”, and discuss how you can design a garden to increase butterfly activity.  Two workshops are open for Pine Needle Basket Making with Denine Jones on Friday, February 23, and a special workshop on “Native Plant Propagation: Theory and Practice” will be held Saturday, February 24 frdom 1:00 to 3:30 p.m. with professional native plant propagator Emily Driskill from Tanager Plants in Mars Hill, North Carolina.  Our current gallery exhibit is photography by Earl Spiece, “A Morning Walk”, and will be on display through the end of February.


The Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4:00 p.m.) and located in Picayune at I-59 Exit 4, 370 Ridge Road.  Leashed pets are welcome on our three miles of walking trails.