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Experiment station blooms

From left Christine Ladner and Debbie Murchisor tend to one of the trial flower beds at the South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville.

From left Christine Ladner and Debbie Murchisor tend to one of the trial flower beds at the South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville.

On Highway 26 in Poplarville is a large structure where research uncovers the best way to grow flowering and fruit producing plants.

Mississippi State University’s South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station conducts trials on new varieties of flowers that are then sent to breeding companies throughout the world. By testing varieties in the hot and humid conditions of Mississippi, the staff can share the information collected with retail nurseries, landscapers and nursery growers who produce bedding plants, said Dr. Gene Blythe.

Other work at the station involves research on essential oil crops such as basil, oregano and other plants from different parts of the country. Once the oils are extracted they are tested to see if they could be used in applications for treatment of plant diseases or as insect repellants.

The station also works with commercial plant propagation companies to develop new and improved methods to grow plants in commercial nurseries.

Each year, the station grows test varieties under landscape conditions in the trial gardens. Varieties that are found to be superior in the trial gardens are given the seal of approval from All-America Selections. Once approved, the companies can put the AAS log on their packaging.

Each season, different plants are rotated into the trial gardens during their respective prime-growing months.

The University employs about a dozen people, which includes technicians, faculty and students who work part time.

“It’s basically their first job,” Blythe said about the students.

The location is also home to the USDA Agriculture Research Service’s Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory, where work with small fruit producing plants is conducted. Some of the research focuses on Muscadine grapes and blueberries, Blythe said.

Tours of the facility are offered daily and during special events such as the upcoming Blueberry Jubilee. Blythe said the tours include the southern horticultural laboratory and the trial gardens.

On the first Thursday in October, the station holds their annual Ornamental Horticultural Field Day as a way to highlight their research, Blythe said.

The experiment station has two satellite stations in the county.

On U.S. 11 is a station where ornamental and small fruit research is conducted.

A few miles west of the experiment station on Highway 26 is a site where beef cattle research is performed, Blythe said.