By Patricia Drackett, Director Crosby Arboretum
The Picayune Item
What is your favorite season? This can be an interesting question to ask someone, and you might be surprised at the answers you will receive. For some, it is the riot of spring color and countless shades of green they will look forward to all year. Others may yearn for summer’s slower pace and luxurious days spent relaxing in the sun. Or, perhaps you are a one of the many who look forward to a yearly tradition of heading north for a drive among mountains and foothills, for slopes cloaked in burgundy and gold.
Even in the coastal South and Pearl River County in particular, much fall color sparkles. Even the spindliest sumac tree can turn heads when it is festooned with scarlet compound leaves. Red maple, black gum, and sweetgum are other tough native trees that provide us with a dependable fall display. The bald cypress trees planted along the edge of the Piney Woods Pond at the Crosby Arboretum are displaying a variety of rusty oranges and earth tones, and their leaves are beginning to succumb to gravity’s pull.
Although at the Crosby Arboretum we are sincere in saying that we take pleasure in every season, we could probably all quickly name a favorite. Whichever one of the four resonates with you, it is certainly great fun to anticipate each turn of the calendar and the approach of “your” time coming around again.
While at Mississippi State University in Starkville this past week, I had the opportunity to walk among bold autumn hues on the campus grounds. Even driving a few hours north will reveal a different experience of fall’s colors. The university is heavily landscaped with many large trees and plentiful planting beds, and each visit brings the discovery of yet another new plant that is enjoying its time on the stage.
For example, about a month or two ago on another campus visit, I spotted a row of maples that stood out from the other trees that were sporting fall color. These appeared to be absolutely on fire, and I suspect these were a variety of maple called ‘Autumn Blaze’ living up to its name. This tree is the result of crossing two native maples, red maple and silver maple, with spectacular results.
Although this column usually focuses on Mississippi native species, an honorable mention needs to go this week to a beautiful golden specimen near the MSU student union. The leaves that carpet the ground below this tree add a new dimension to its beauty. This is a ginkgo, a favorite from my youth. Actually, this tree once grew abundantly in North America as well as Asia over 250 million years ago. It disappeared from this continent about 7 million years ago and is often referred to as a “living fossil”.
As deciduous trees such as the gingko prepare to shed their leaves, they offer us a final display of arresting splendor before a more subtle season of beauty arrives.
I’m referring to the quiet grandeur that characterizes the winter months. Perhaps you have noticed this is the one season that has not yet been mentioned. Have you guessed that I am one of those who claims winter as their favorite season?
Winter brings such delicious comforts. Being surrounded by the toasty warmth of a thick sweater on a chilly day, hands tucked snugly into wool-lined leather gloves, the crunch of snow beneath one’s feet, the contrast between a cold nose and cheeks – what better way to feel fully alive? Add a cup of hot chocolate and a crackling fire, and round out the pleasure of being warm inside by enjoying the view through frosty windowpanes of bare trees and winter’s muted shades of blue and gray. For those of us who spent winters in childhood playing outside on snowy days, nothing beats the world transformed into a rolling sea of snowy diamonds sparkling in the sun, or during a magical moonlit walk in the snow.
Had it not been for an offhand comment made last week by a visitor to the Arboretum that there was “nothing much to see” at our site this time of year, Senior Curator Richelle Stafne and I may not have had the chance to reflect upon the fact that we are both very fortunate to be able to appreciate nature’s subtle beauty in late fall and winter landscapes.
Children certainly delight in seeing the characteristic structure of trees revealed in the winter. The thorny nature of trees such as parsley hawthorn, mayhaw, and Southern crabapple becomes obvious, and the green twigs characteristic of sassafras trees and native blueberries. Evergreen trees take on a new importance in the landscape. When deciduous trees are no longer encumbered by leaves, the focus is on other features, such as the color and texture of bark, the exquisite and unique shapes of leaf and flower buds, or the way each tree individually reaches skyward. Other secrets are exposed – such as bird houses, bat houses, and bird and squirrel nests hidden from view throughout the year.
Winter is still and quiet, like a deep breath, or a welcome rest. It is needed after fall. One feels this slumber on a walk through landscapes during this time of year. Winter’s rhythms and patterns are subtle, but still awesome. We now notice the lichens gripping tree trunks, and the ephemeral mushrooms that pop up along the paths.
This winter will contain many days of pleasant weather, perfect for exploring the Arboretum. Come take a walk on our grounds and experience the subtle beauty of our winter months. A program schedule is available on our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. For more information call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311. We are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Search the Web for an image of the ‘Autumn Blaze’ maple and read about how it was developed. Research the fascinating ancient history of the “living fossil” – the ginkgo. What are ginkgo chi-chi? (Look this up on an Internet image search)