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What is the Crosby Arboretum and why should you visit?

By Patricia Drackett

Director of the Crosby Arboretum and

assistant extension professor of landscape architecture with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

We had a phone call today from a person who asked me what they might find to do here at the Crosby Arboretum, as they had never visited. First, we are a 64-acre public garden with three miles of walking trails so obviously we’re a great place for families who want their children to sleep soundly after a visit. There’s always something to discover along our trails. Feeding the turtles from the Pinecote Pavilion is an activity many look forward to. Fish food is free to Arboretum members and a nominal charge to visitors.

Trails pass through three basic coastal habitats: forest, savanna, and aquatic exhibits.  We have seven bridges on our Arrival Journey and Pond Journey trails with benches that give you a nice place for resting a spell. In our Gum Pond Educational Exhibit, you’ll find another recently completed bridge that is seventy feet long.

But currently it’s the savanna area and the south pitcher plant bog that’s been stealing the show as it’s jam-packed with Mississippi wildflowers. Having grown up near the Smoky Mountains, I’m accustomed to wildflowers growing like a patchwork carpet of color in the springtime. But here, that glorious season of color takes place in the summer.  It seems like coastal residents are less likely to be acquainted with the plants found in these wildflower meadows than in the mountains, but many of them are tough performers for your home garden.

You may forget all about the warm temperatures when you discover just how unusual the bog plants are. The yellow pitcher plants have hollow leaves that contain intoxicatingly sweet-smelling nectar glands that beckon to passing insects to come check them out. Once perched on the rim of the “pitcher”, insects often lose their foothold on the slippery surface and tumble down into the waiting pool of digestive juices. Here, they are (very slowly) digested, providing nitrogen for the plant. Should the insects recover their senses and try climbing toward the “light at the end of the tunnel”, they will encounter downward-pointing hairs preventing them from climbing upward. Whenever I’m having a bad day, I simply picture those poor bugs out in the pitcher plant bog, because I know they are having a much harder time of it.

To learn more about the Arboretum, I can’t say it better than these comments we received after two field trips by Mrs. Jean Gardner’s 4th and 5th Grade Challenge classes from East Hancock Elementary in October 2010. They underline the universal need for places like Mississippi State University’s Crosby Arboretum, and for encouraging the public to share in their wonders. These are unchanged sentences from the students’ letters, including the final signature:

Dear Ms. Pat,

I’m so glad I came to the Crosby Arboretum. It was an astounding experience. I loved everything about it, from the turtles to the rough leaved sun flower. I got to see so many flabbergasting things. I can’t wait to come back.

I think the Arboretum is an important place because it shows how important trees and plants are. It allows kids to explore nature and it is very educational.  It gives you time to soak in the fresh air and bond with nature.

But what really amazed me is how many plants we saw, and they all grew in only 30 years. I saw tons of interesting plants. I loved the plants that you could crush up and smell and feel and all of it made me so ecstatic. I thought the crinum lily was very elegant. My favorite part was when we got to feel the leaves on the beech tree.

It was so extraordinary how the pitcher plants could actually trap bugs, but without moving. I thought the sundew was the most beautiful plant I have ever seen. I saw panic grass and club moss. I thought that the ladies’ hat pin was really lovely because the top actually did look like a real ladies’ hat pin. I never knew a plant could smell like root beer on the roots — I was astonished by that candy root plant.

I had a lot of fun and I hope I can come back soon. I think more kids and adults should come to the Crosby Arboretum because I think it’s important that people learn about nature. More schools should visit, too. I will never view the world the same way.

Love, an amazed child

Attend our mushroom field walk on Saturday, August 28. If you’re a fan of mushrooms and fungi, it’s an outstanding chance to learn about their fascinating ecology, taxonomy, and relationship to mankind. Limited to 30 persons. Call 601-799-2311 to register. Cost for members is $4 and $7 for non-members. For more information on programs and events, see  www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu<http://www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu>.