By Patricia Drackett, Director Crosby Arboretum
The Picayune Item
As the Arboretum’s deciduous trees continue to shed their leaves, the evergreen trees are beginning to command attention. No longer blending into the forest, trees such as the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) have become much more obvious in the landscape.
On the south side of the Piney Woods Pond, the Pond Journey leads through a grove of tall magnolias planted several decades ago. This area offers an excellent example of one of the delightful characteristics of M. grandiflora. While it will grow as tall as 90 feet, and do fine in full sun, this “understory” tree can also tolerate shade well, being perfectly happy under the taller canopies of other trees.
In the forest, a magnolia left untouched will often have limbs full to the ground, making it easy to climb or to shelter small children. Having once been a child that enjoyed these limbs’ stair-like nature, it can be a bit sad to see magnolias in lawn areas with their lower limbs removed, and having a trunk bumpy with limb scars. One may argue that such casualties are necessary in order to pass a lawn mower underneath, but I’ll counter that a full specimen with limbs to the ground (or turf) is much more visually pleasing than one that has been pruned up. Lower limbs will also hide some of the large, leathery leaves that are continually shed inside the tree’s “skirts”.
Children who visit the Arboretum can usually quickly identify a Southern magnolia. Could this be because it is the state tree of Mississippi? It would not be easy to find someone unfamiliar with the beautiful flowers of this traditional southern tree. The seed pods are magnets for children who enjoy gazing at their unusual shape. Magnolia seeds are an important food for birds such as wild turkey as well as other wildlife.
If you have a large specimen that wouldn’t miss a limb or two, Southern magnolia certainly makes an elegant holiday decoration in garlands, wreathes, or for decoration the mantle or holiday table. I’ve seen some outstanding frames decorated with both fresh green leaves, and gold or silver gilded leaves. Many named varieties of Southern magnolia are available in the nursery trade, such as ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ or the petite ‘Little Gem’.
This winter will bring many days of pleasant weather perfect for exploring the Arboretum. Come walk on our grounds over the holidays, as we will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the exception of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Our Gift Shop now features much new artwork by local craftspersons. Consider giving a gift of an Arboretum membership, which includes a membership in the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Membership Program providing free or reduced admission to over 250 public gardens in North America. The cost is $30 for an individual membership and $40 for a family membership.
On a walk through our interpretative site, visitors walking the Savanna Exhibit will see that we have already gotten an excellent start with this winter’s prescribed fire plan. Grounds manager and certified burn manager Terry Johnson was delighted to have perfect weather conditions a few weeks ago. He was able to conduct a burn much earlier in the season than usual. Terry’s assistant Jarrett Hurlston is putting the final touches on some fire breaks, preparing for the next application of prescribed fire.
The controlled use of fire in our approximately 20 acre Savanna Exhibit allows the Arboretum’s grasslands to be perceived much like they would have appeared to the region’s early settlers and original Native American inhabitants. Here among the grasses are many rare and threatened fire-adapted native plant species, such as sundews and pitcher plants (which are carnivorous), and some beautiful species of orchids. Unfortunately, less than three percent of the Gulf Coast’s original pitcher plant bogs remain today. In addition the continued draining or filling of these sensitive wetlands, the discontinued use of fire has contributed to reducing their presence.
Prescribed burning takes place on Thursdays and Fridays during the winter months if weather conditions are right, and will usually get underway around mid-morning. If you are interested in observing a prescribed burn or in applying to be a volunteer on the burn crew, contact Terry Johnson at 601-799-2311 Ext. 105. Those interested in volunteering for the fire team can learn fire management techniques, and more about resources for becoming certified to burn. Team members are notified a day or two ahead of time if the approaching weather conditions appear favorable for conducting a burn. Those who would like to observe only should call the office around 9:00 to see if arrangements are underway for applying for a burn permit.
Would you like to learn more about birds and birdwatching? An excellent “Introduction to Birding” program will be held on Saturday, January 12 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. Also, pass on the word to teachers about our fun “Wild about Winter” Project Wild workshop on Saturday, January 19, to be conducted by an outreach educator from the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Forge Day on Saturday, January 26 will feature a variety of metalworking demonstrations by area blacksmiths and knifemakers from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Information about our programs and about volunteering at the Crosby Arboretum can be found on our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu or by calling the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311. The next volunteer meeting will be held Thursday, January 10 from 10:30 to 11:00 We are located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
For further exploration: More information on prescribed burning can be found on the Mississippi State University Extension website at www.MSUcares.com and at the website for the Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Florida at www.talltimbers.org.