By Patricia Drackett, Director Crosby Arboretum
The Picayune Item
What do you see when you take a drive along our area roadsides? Perhaps your journey will take you past swampy areas that in warmer months sport white-blooming water lilies, accompanying by a brief chorus of frogs as you zip by. Or maybe you suddenly notice that the field you have passed a hundred times is covered with yellow blooms of pitcher plants, called “buttercups” by local residents. During a rainy season, you might be amazed when discovering how much water is being stored in places that are usually dry.
Do you enjoy the purple and yellow blooms of late fall perennials, or the rusty grasses that will stand out boldly from winter’s drab hues? Currently, the persistent leaves of beech trees can be seen in the open forest understory on a drive up Interstate 59, as you approach Meridian. In spring in this same area, bigleaf magnolia can be seen tucked into the wooded ravines. Another glorious sight is the red-berried deciduous hollies occasionally seen along fence lines, particularly on U.S. Highway 45 North on the way to Starkville.
When I arrive at the Arboretum each morning, it is a treat to see the new sights each day has in store. Driving the half mile service road into our property allows for a wonderful decompression from miles of interstate travel. On foggy days I know that hundreds of delicate spider webs, constructed by “bowl and doily spiders, will be waiting for me in the pine tree needles and plumes of Panicum grass.
Another morning may reveal dozens of red-capped, and white-warted Amanita mushrooms lining the edges of this road, in various stages of unfolding. Although you might equate mushrooms with preferring warm, moist weather, it is not unusual to see them on a cold fall day.
All of these sights offer us brief glimpses into the wonders of nature, and they only require a few seconds out of our day to appreciate. What might at first thought be a boring, routine drive can instead be a chance to observe, learn, and share with a child. My son was certainly subjected to many cries of “look, look” at whatever new feature I sighted along the road.
Several discussions in the past few weeks with parents and teachers have centered on how children today seem to have less opportunity to get outside and therefore possess less knowledge about what they might see. Those of you who spend much of your time driving great distances on our Pearl River County roads can take full advantage of these great opportunities to learn from this “roadside perspective” for exploration and learning.
In school, our botany teacher spoke of “60 mile an hour trees” - those which were easy to identify at a glance because they had a very distinct structure or other obvious characteristics. On a drive from Poplarvile to Wiggins last spring, I delighted in the display of white-blooming native grancy greybeard here and there along the roadside. Perhaps you have noticed these trees as well. In the early spring, a swampy area I pass each day contains mayhaw trees that are a pleasure to watch, as each day brings more blooms and the trees become cloaked in white.
During the winter months, you can teach young children the difference between deciduous (trees that shed their leaves) and evergreen trees, such as pine trees or a southern magnolia. Ask them if a particular tree is deciduous or evergreen, and how they can tell. Teach them about the trees having persistent or “marcescent” leaves, such as oak and beech trees. In the winter, this quality makes identification of these species very easy. Even very young children can learn to identify trees, and delight in passing on this knowledge to others.
During my school days in Louisiana, the many trips made between Baton Rouge and New Orleans were an opportunity to search for hawks perched in the trees. It was unusual to make the trip without sighting at least one of these birds, and on a good day six or more might be counted.
Observing a hawk during a roadside journey might serve to spark an after-dinner search with your family with a field guide or an Internet foray for the species you sighted, as well as a chance to learn how to distinguish between the types found in our area. Birder Susan Epps, who has presented numerous bird programs at the Arboretum, says the hawks spotted here would most likely be red-shouldered, red-tailed, or Cooper’s hawks.
The pathways at the Crosby Arboretum have been designed to be a series of “journeys” through the site’s microcosm of Mississippi plant communities. Our native plants are displayed in their preferred communities in three main habitats – aquatic, woodland, and savanna exhibits. Visitors will experience a sampling of all three of these habitat types when they enter the site and walk the 400 foot Arrival Journey that connects the visitor parking area to our visitor center.
This winter will bring some great opportunities for you to learn more about Mississippi’s native plants. Mark your calendar for the Crosby Arboretum’s Arbor Day native plant sale on Saturday, February 16 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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:
Learn the differences between the three types of hawks mentioned above, and see who can spot the first one the next time you take a drive. Look up the definition of “marcescent” leaves, and which trees possess this characteristic.