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The Arboretum is in full bloom! Enjoy Free admission Sunday afternoon!

By Pat Drackett

Crosby Arboretum Director

In honor of our long-running Strawberries & Cream Festival, you are invited to enjoy free admission this Sunday, April 11 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. If you’ve never visited the Arboretum, here is your chance!  Due to our current COVID-19 protocol we will not be serving ice cream and strawberries this year, but there will be music on the Pinecote Pavilion, and we will be giving away free strawberry plants while supplies last. Come stroll the pathways and see all the beautiful blooming native plants in our exhibits!

Last week, I had great fun taking a cart tour around the site Terry Johnson. We were exciting to see that the number of pitcher plants are greatly increasing in our north bog. He pointed out how the plants had a very linear pattern, which he explained was an old drainage channel that cuts the bog. On our journey southward, we took in the great results Terry and his volunteer burn team got when they performed several prescribed fire events this past winter.

Our final destination was the south pitcher plant bog, a sight to behold as it is currently in glorious full bloom with “buttercups,” the term that many local residents use for the yellow pitcher plant flowers. Next to these blooms, the thin, flat leaves of the pitcher plants are emerging, and will soon expand, growing to heights that tower over the flower stems. As they mature, digestive enzymes in their hollow leaves will mature and begin to dissolve the insects which tumble into the structures.

Pitcher plants are a species of carnivorous plant that trap and digest insects by attracting them with sweet-smelling nectar. In the pitcher plant bog’s acidic, nutrient-poor soils, they have developed this method to obtain nitrogen through trapping and digesting insects. Insects that venture inside the pitchers are prevented from exiting by the thick forest of downward-facing hairs on the inside surface of the leaves. Bugs check in but they don’t check out!

The south pitcher plant bog is the largest of two bogs in the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit, which is the pine grassland portion of our site that parallels Ridge Road.  It makes up about a third of the site. Many of the pitcher plants in our south bog were transplanted many years ago from the property where Walmart is today.

It’s the south bog we call “the” Pitcher Plant Bog. This area is extremely high in species diversity, or, in other words, it has a larger variety of native wildflowers, herbaceous plants, and grasses. What most visitors are unaware of when they visit in the spring months is that the beautiful tapestry they see here was only a few months ago in a completely blackened state, the result of the controlled fire that takes place every January or February, unless it is too wet to burn. Following a winter burn, the savanna’s grasses and perennials don’t take long to turn green again, spurred by the nutrient-rich ash left by the fire, as do the yellow pitcher plants (Sarracenia alata)

As our coastal wet pine savanna habitats become increasingly fragmented and lost to development, we have fewer opportunities to see these carnivorous plants. At the Crosby Arboretum, managing our grassland exhibit by consistent controlled burning suppresses underbrush and promotes a diverse collection of native plants that are well-adapted to periodic fire.

Our tour last week through the south Pitcher Plant Bog provided a perfect opportunity to study these plants. Look closely to see tiny dwarf sundews (Drosera brevifolia) growing against the bare earth, covered in tiny sparkles of ruby “dew”.  The bog also contains other curiosities, such as a variety of sundew called a threadleaf sundew (Drosera tracyi), a mass of thin, upright leaves covered with drops of sticky dew that trap insects. Keep your eyes peeled in the south bog for these curiosities and bring your camera!

Join us on Saturday, April 17 for a 5K run (or walk) on the trails through the Arboretum’s exhibits for our 2021 5K Through the Forest! Enjoy Spring in full bloom as you travel the pathways, while you get fit and breath in the fresh air. Bring your friends, both the running and walking kind, to register. Follow the ticket link on our Facebook event, mail us a check, or come to the Arboretum Visitors Center to register. Entry fee is $35 per athlete. Check in begins at 8:00 a.m. and the 5K starts at 9:00 a.m. Call the office at 601-799-2311 or email nickie.smith@msstate.edu for more information.

For more information or to join, see www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. We’re located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. Leashed pets are always welcome.