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Arboretum blooms: Iris, buttercups and flame azaleas!

By Patricia R. Drackett
Director, The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University
Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture

Admission to the Arboretum is currently free. Our garden is open during regular visiting hours on Wednesday through Sunday. The entry gates are open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and our exit gates close at 4:30. This season is the time our grounds are most visually beautiful, and blooms are currently in great abundance.

The flowering native plant species that are most evident in the exhibits include southern blue flag Iris, pink native honeysuckle azaleas and flame azaleas in our Woodland Exhibit, and the blooms of the yellow pitcher plants in the Savanna Exhibit.
While pitcher plants are found growing in both our north and south bog. However, they are most notable in our south bog, where you can take a stroll on our boardwalk to see the pitcher plant blooms up close. You might know these unusual flowers as “buttercups,” as many local persons have described them.

An interesting observation is that the grassy area adjacent to the boardwalk was previously cleared by a string trimmer, to protect the wooden structure prior to our earlier prescribed fire event. While the flowers in the clusters of pitcher plants located in the burned areas have flowers still in bud stage, the flowers along the boardwalk are in full, glorious bloom. They are a photographer’s dream!

Pitcher plants are a species of carnivorous plant that trap and digest many species of insects by attracting them with a sweet-smelling nectar they produce. An exit from the tubular leaves is prevented by the thick forest of downward facing hairs covering the inside surface of the leaves (bugs check in, but they don’t check out).

Southern blue flag Iris is blooming in the Arboretum’s Aquatic Exhibit. This perennial is a low-care garden favorite. Common in the rich, moist soils of coastal wetlands from Virginia to Texas, this plant is native to areas where water will stand year-round. The purple or blue flowers are found in many hues, and blooms are most abundant in full sun, but the plant also will prosper in the shifting shade from a nearby forest canopy.

You will notice that blooms on our pink native azaleas are fading, and the yellow and orange hues of the Florida flame azaleas are following. These blooms have a spicy fragrance compared to the sweet-smelling pink azaleas. The pink variety here is called Piedmont azalea. It is found along Pearl River County streams and rivers.

Piedmont azalea is the easiest native azalea to grow in local gardens. This species grows northward as far as Tennessee, while flame azaleas have a much more limited range, found primarily in the Florida panhandle. Their range includes four eastern coastal counties of Mississippi – Jackson, George, and Greene along the state border, and areas of Stone County.

Make plans to come enjoy a walk around the grounds and check out our plant exhibits to see what is in bloom. Our visitor center and gift shop will be closed, but Arboretum staff will be in the office. If assistance is needed, please knock on the front door or give us a call 601-799-2311. Please sign in upon your arrival.

There will be various materials available with native plant resources as well as Arboretum information. A public restroom will be open in the visitor center annex, which we clean and sanitize multiple times during the day. We hope this temporary courtesy encourages you to get some exercise and fresh air. As this unprecedented situation changes, we will update you with our status.

The Crosby Arboretum will be offering drive-through native plant sales for spring gardening projects. Orders for plants will be taken over the phone on April 3 and 4 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., paid by card only. Payment will be taken at time of call and a pickup time will be scheduled. Once completed, a receipt will be emailed.

For plant pickup, vehicles will enter the Arboretum’s service entrance and enter the loop near our greenhouse area, where orders will be loaded by Arboretum staff and volunteers. Drivers will not need to get out of their car. A plant list that includes prices is planned to be released on our Facebook page and our email listserv on Sunday, March 28. If you would like to sign up for our email listserv to stay updated on Arboretum activities, select “Events Updates” from the menu bar on our website at http://crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu.
The Crosby Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4. Leashed pets are always welcome!