By Patricia Drackett, Director Crosby Arboretum
The Picayune Item
I’ve heard that a sure-fire way to have people buy into an idea or product is to focus on the many ways it offers a personal benefit to them. All you need to do is flip open a magazine or turn on the television to see a plethora of advertisements that boldly claim their product or service is “all about you”. So, let me offer you one more thing to consider, something that really and truly can help “you” improve your life immeasurably, namely, incorporating more Mississippi native plants into your home landscape.
Yes, it’s true, native plants really do offer some great benefits – to you. They will save you time, money, and contribute to a healthier environment for you to work and play in. Doesn’t this sound like a great concept to buy into? As a former landscape designer, I was able to quickly sell clients on the virtues of using native plants by describing only one of their aspects – the tendency for many of them to possess tough, low-maintenance qualities. When they are matched to the site conditions they prefer, native plants will thrive.
Because native plants are adapted to our local climate, they are generally easier to care for, meaning, little to no fertilizer will be required. Pest and disease problems tend to not be as substantial, avoiding the need for you to purchasing chemicals to combat these issues. An added bonus is the fact that the reduced use of chemicals will in turn lead to a healthier local water supply.
But the best thing about native plants is the savings they offer you in time and labor. Who likes to plant a tree twice? This was a favorite saying of one of my former employers. He did not like to install a plant more than once. In other words, if you get the right plant in the right place the first time around, you never have to do it again!
Although some may consider native plants to be boring simply because they are the ones we see every day, we would be happy to show you several posters we’ve created at the Arboretum that illustrate the wide range of beauty found in Mississippi’s native species. While natives may not have as extended a period of bloom as many of the plants commonly found in local garden centers, they certainly have a magnificence all their own.
Soon we will enter those glorious spring months, when sometimes it seems like everything is blooming all at once. Native plants have been known to steal a few hearts at this time of year. Walk over the first bridge on our site’s Arrival Journey, and prepare for a treat – the sight of pink flowering mountain laurel (Kalmia). This is the same species you will see on a trip to the Smoky Mountains. The tiny sundew (Drosera) plants seen in our Savannna Exhibit, some no bigger than a quarter, can also be found nestled among the mossy and moist rock outcrops, such as those seen on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sundew flowers are so big for such a small plant, and children take great delight in discovering these curiosities for the first time.
Our deciduous magnolias - bigleaf magnolia and Ashe’s magnolia - are show-stoppers on the Arrival Journey. At first glance, they have a somewhat tropical appearance. The blooms have petals that are more strap-like than southern magnolia, but they still turn their share of heads. These magnolias prefer soil that is rich, moist, and well-drained, like the slope of the bank next to our bridge. By observing where you see certain plants thriving at the Arboretum, you can search for a similar spot on your property to be assured of their success.
Other native flowering species well-known for their showy blooms include southern crabapple, mayhaw, red buckeye, and native fringe tree, also called Grancy graybeard, which is stunning when clad in white “fringe”. All of these trees are old-fashioned favorites for planting as a free-standing specimen tree in the yard.
Mayhaw and southern crabapple will reward you with fruit, making these trees excellent choices for your wildlife garden, or for jelly-making ventures. Southern crab’s delicate pink flowers are simply gorgeous against a deep blue sky in the spring months, and mayhaw’s white blossoms are equally attractive. Red buckeye is especially attractive to hummingbirds.
The coming months will bring some great opportunities for you to learn more about Mississippi’s native plants at the Crosby Arboretum. Mark your calendar for our Arbor Day native plant sale on Saturday, February 16 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Site admission is free the day of our plant sale, so come pay us a visit! Plant professionals will be on hand to talk with you about your property’s unique microclimates and to help you choose the best species for your site. To celebrate Arbor Day, we will be giving away free bare root trees that day, including several varieties of oaks. Browse our Visitor Center for free MSU Extension publications focused on native plants and gardening.
On Saturday, February 23 from 10 to 11:30 a.m., bring the family to enjoy a winter field walk with botanist Heather Sullivan, from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks. Don’t miss this chance to walk our exhibits with an expert. For more information, visit the program calendar on our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu or call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311. Social media links are available on our website’s home page. The Arboretum is located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
For further exploration: Visit the Crosby Arboretum’s Plant Data Base on our website’s home page, hosted by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, or a plant identification website such as www.southeasternflora.com to learn more about Mississippi native plants.
Visit the Mississippi State University Extension website at www.MSUcares.com and enter “native plants” in the search field to find publications, articles, and other information on our native flora.