Archive for the ‘Garden and Nature Travels’ Category

On the Road

I'm looking forward to speaking at this Sustainable Living Conference.

I’ve got a couple of speaking gigs coming up.

For those in the Jackson, Mississippi area, my plant propagation workshop at Millsaps College in Jackson was rescheduled when I got sick with a stomach bug.  The new date is Saturday, February 12. You can find more details or register by going to the Millsaps Winter Enrichment Classes site.

The following weekend, I will speak in Hattiesburg, Mississippi at a Sustainable Living Conference.  If you’re in the Hattiesburg area, my talk will be on Saturday, February 19 at 1:00 p.m.

I love the cool campy flyer they made.  I look like a giantess in my bee suit.   I am taller than the trees and yet am dwarfed by the bean sprout!  I will speak about “Gardening with the Woods and other Sustainable Garden Ideas”.

For more information about the Sustainable Living Conference check out the Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute website.


Needle Palm

My needle palm looks quite perky after a 17 degree night.

Last night the mercury dipped to 17 degrees and signaled the unofficial beginning of winter here in my little world.

The dramatic temperature drop and the fierce wind that accompanied knocked the leaves off most of the trees.

This morning the camellia flowers had turned to brown mush.

When I gazed out the back window, however, the needle palm reigned supreme.

The needle palm in my back garden is beautiful in every season.  It is particularly striking in winter like a tropical mirage amongst the bare branches.

Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is a small shrubby palm with fan shaped evergreen leaves.

This needle palm is in my own Lauderdale County, Mississippi perched on the banks of Okatibbee Creek.

It is native to Florida , Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina.

The Needle Palm, however, will thrive much further north than its natural range and is possibly the the most cold hardy palm in the world.

I have a lot of native plants in my garden and I incoporated most of them after seeing them in their native habitats.

The needle palm earned a place because of its hardiness claim to fame.  I purchased a 5 year old gallon sized plant from Plant Delights Nursery without ever having seen it in a natural setting.   I made an educated guess and planted it as an understory plant on a gentle slope in my back garden.   I sited it close enough to my deck and to the walkway for easy viewing.  My palm has been in the ground for over 12 years so it is pushing 20.   It is about 5 feet tall with an equal or greater spread.

Earlier this year, I finally did see needle palm in the wild on a trip to Torreya State Park which is in the Florida panhandle.    The palms were blooming in clusters near the ground.  Since they are dioecious, there are “boy” and “girl” palms.   The flowers on the showy staminate (male) plants were blooming among the clusters of sharp slender spines or “needles” at the crown of the plant.

I was excited to see my first needle palms in Florida but then in late summer I discovered a large population of them on a friend’s land in my own county.  The land is on steep slopes that overlook Okatibbee Creek.

Fuzzy needle palm fruit is nestled in the wicked spines that give this palm its name.

The day before Thanksgiving I visited the site for a second time.  I very carefully collected the fuzzy oval fruit that was  nestled among the wickedly sharp needles.

I hope to clean and plant the seed soon.  I am excited to grow needle palm from seed but most importantly, the pulp is emitting a very funky odor and I need to get it out of my house!

Later that day my friend Keith Hayes and I floated down Okatibbee Creek adjacent to his land and found more needle palms perched on the creek banks.

So now I have seen needle palm in flower, in fruit and in my own county.

I am increasingly more impressed with the landscape value of this wonderful palm.

Without ever encountering it in the wild, I stumbled onto an appropriate site for my little palm in my own back yard.

It is a stellar member of my winter garden.

I just wish that I had given it a little more room to grow.    Needle palm is reported to reach 8′ with an equal spread.  Now, in year 20-ish, it is crowding the walk and I’m thinking the walk might have to go.


Harrell Prairie

The Harrell Prairie sign in a pool of slender bluestem.

Liatris squarrosa is a type of blazing star or gayfeather.

Last weekend on the way home from the Mississippi Native Plant Society Meeting my friend Peter Loos and I decided to stop off and take a look at Harrell Prairie.

We were inspired to make our visit because Fall is a lovely time to be in a prairie.

We were fortunate to be there at sunset.

Harrell Prairie is a Jackson Prairie formation.  It is a disjunct of  Black Belt Prairie which means it is very similar but not located nearby.

Harrell Prairie Botanical Area or Harrell Prairie Hill is a 160 acres tallgrass prairie remnant.

Here is Pete roaming around in the prairie.

It is located in Bienville National Forest  in Scott County, Mississippi.  It is near I-20 about halfway between Jackson and Meridian in Forest, Mississippi.

After getting off the Interstate, we drove past the fast food joints and turn onto a gravel road.   We cruised about 3 miles and reached the prairie at dusk when the light was perfect.

I have visited Harrell many times.

In spring, I admire the beautiful baptisia and the emerging grasses.

In summer, the butterfly weed, button snakeroot and purple coneflower are delightful.

But in autumn, the grasses rule.

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) has an inflorescence that looks like a turkey's foot.

Big Bluestem, Indian Grass and Switchgrass assume their amber fall colors and display their various seedheads.

On Saturday evening, the wind was blowing and the grasses were whispering.

The sky was pink and purple when we left for home.

Images from our prairie visit have haunted me all week.


Remembering Ed Blake

The Pond Journey Trail meanders through the piny woods around the cypress gum pond

These young visitors pause to admire Pinecote Pavillion.

My friend Ed Blake passed away on August 30.

Ed was a talented Landscape Architect and an advocate for the Earth.

He designed gardens all over the world.

I do not intend to slight any of the wonderful spaces that Ed created.   But I know that I will remember him best as one of the movers and instigators of The Crosby Arboretum.

The Crosby is a wonderfully unique arboretum/botanical garden in South Mississippi. It celebrates the flora of the Pearl River drainage basin.

View from the Pond Journey Trail

Wild iris and azaleas mingle along the pond margin.

The Crosby’s exhibits showcase the plants of the region including those of the piney woods, a cypress gum pond and a longleaf pine savanna.

The arboretum is named for L. O. Crosby Jr., a Forester who loved nature. After Crosby’s death, his family had the vision to establish a foundation to transform 104 acres that was previously a strawberry farm into an arboretum.

It was an interesting idea.

But I believe that it might not have been implemented without the leadership of Ed Blake.

A boardwalk goes through the pine savanna with yellow pitcher plants in full bloom.

Ed was one of the Landscape Architects that the foundation interviewed. According to The Picayune Item, Crosby’s daughter Lynn Crosby Gamill remembered that, “When we started the Arboretum vision, which was in approximately 1979 to 1980, … Ed Blake met with us and we knew that he was the one.  I am proud to know that providence put us in contact with Ed. The Founders worked with him on all phases.”

Ed created the Master Plan for the Crosby and served as the first Director of the Arboretum.

Both Ed and the architect Fay Jones (who designed Pinecote Pavillion) won national awards for their work at The Crosby.   Among other awards, Ed won the 1991 Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

From the boardwalk, visitors get up close and personal with yellow pitcher plants.

This is the highest national award given in Landscape Architecture and is the only one ever to be received in Mississippi.

Ed enjoyed working with clever talented people.

He motivated and organized an impressive group of professionals (Robert Poore, Sidney McDaniel, Bob Brzuszek and Chris Wells to name a few) to implement and sustain the project.

And so, in honor of Ed, I’ve decided to post pictures of The Crosby Arboretum today.

But first I must remark that Ed was tall but he never made others feel small.

He was creative, intelligent and kind.

His smile was luminescent.

I am honored to have known him.

The pine savanna is colorful in late spring.

Ed’s close friend Bob Brzuszek is quoted in The Picayune Item as saying, “He was a poet and a painter as well as a landscape architect. He loved nature, and more than anything he loved the landscape of Mississippi with his whole being. He would sit and listen to the wind in the pines and would get up early to take photos of the misty landscapes that would be on display at those hours. He was consumed with an endless curiosity and love of learning about nature. He left a great legacy for all of us here now and for those that will follow us.”

The Blake family has requested that donations be made to the Crosby Arboretum Foundation in Ed’s memory.

It would be fitting if The Crosby is finally able to construct the much needed Education Center as a result of these donations.   Ed would have liked that.


Cassandra Stewart Loos

Cassandra Loos poses on her front porch in May 2008 with husband Peter and the young Dude. Aletris wanders through the black eyed Susans in the background.

I lost a close friend on August 25.

Cassandra Loos was one of my plant buds.  She loved nature, her pets, her friends, family and, most of all, her husband Peter.

I spent many happy hours in her company.

There were late nights when we imbibed a few cold ones and Cassandra kept us laughing with her witty observations.

I remember an epic Scrabble tournament and quite a few road trips.

I especially enjoyed my time at Cassandra’s home in Chireno, Texas.

Cass made certain that visitors felt welcome.

At our many plant gatherings, she noticed and reached out to the socially inept.

She was a kind soul with a rapier sharp wit.  That is a rare combination.  She will be missed.

I re-discovered a John Muir quote about life and death and nature.  I think it is appropriate and it goes like this:

“… On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death…

Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.”

– John Muir – A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf


Cullowhee Revisited

Yellow fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) bloomed in trailside bogs.

I’ve been going to a native plant conference in North Carolina on and off since the mid 80’s.

It is held at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC.  Last week I made the trek once more.

The Cullowhee Conference has been a wonderful thing for me.

I have made some fine friends there and learned a lot about native plants.

The speakers are great but, for me, the field trips and other nature adventures are the best part of the Cullowhee experience.

Red moss, sundews and grasses collaborate to make a nature collage.

I am posting pictures from my field trip to Panthertown Valley (aka the “Yosemite of the East”).

The trip leaders, Wes Burlingame and Meredith Clebsh, were very low key and extremely knowledgeable.

This granite bald was spectacular.

We hiked through mountain bogs, alpine meadows and climbed to the top of  a granitic bald.

The bald was basically a rock outcropping at the top of Little Green Mountain.  There were conifers, mountain laurel, sandmyrtle and  rhododendrons.

We grazed on wild blueberries.

At the very edge of the bald we found a lovely unknown lily.  It was growing in a crevice just before the rock precipitously dropped off.

This unknown lily was blooming its head off at the edge of the bald.

The lily looked a great deal like the Carolina lily (Lilium michauxii) that is now blooming in my woods.

The balds are reported to be excellent rattlesnake habitat.  We navigated with caution.

We broke for lunch here.

This is where we eat lunch in Panthertown.

We paused for lunch beside a waterfall.

It was an incredibly beautiful place.

I tried to store some cool mountain air.

I swam for an extra long time in a frigid mountain stream.  My thinking was that if I could lower my body temperature just a tad…  I could carry some coolness back to Mississippi.

No such luck.  I am home and the temperature is 102.


The Joys of Summer

I promise that I did not manipulate the colors of this summer phlox. It harmonized in the exact hues show here with our native bee balm.

It’s easy to say some positive things about summer right now.  We got some rain today and the temperature dropped at least 15 degrees.

I’m invigorated and ready to talk about flowers again.

I recently visited Allen and Julia Anderson’s garden down south in Poplarville, Mississippi.  Allen’s perennial border was at its peak of bloom.   I admired the cabbage leaf coneflowers (Rudbeckia maxima) and Indigo Spires salvia.

But… being a fan of the color purple, the combination that caught my eye was the pairing of  summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) and bee balm (Monarda fistulosa).

The phlox came from Allen’s Mama’s garden.  It has beefy rounded clusters of flowers.  Each floret in the cluster is a shocking magenta with an unusual red dot at the center.   The day was overcast and the color was almost fluorescent.

The bee balm is a Mississippi prairie remnant refugee.  It is a glowing purple-lavender with a softly frumpy bee balm shape.

These two are simple plants.  They are easy to grow.  They need some sun but tolerate drought and are pest free.  They mingle beautifully and smell great.

Bees and butterflies like them too.

If you don’t have an heirloom phlox passed on from your Mama, give Robert Poore phlox a try.  This phlox was named for my friend Robert who is a Landscape Architect from Flora, Mississippi.  It is a sturdy mildew resistant variety with lovely purple flowers.

It’s a grand plant but it doesn’t trump a Mama memory phlox.

Nothing is as good as a phlox from your Mama except maybe one from your Mamaw.


I had to go all the way to Texas to learn my own state butterfly

In a Texas pitcher plant bog, a spicebush swallowtail duo chows down on red milkweed nectar.

The spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) is the state butterfly of Mississippi.

Our chosen butterfly is predominantly black with a 3″ to 4″ wingspan.  The wings are marked with ivory spots along the margins and a diagonal swipe of tie-died blue.  The undersides of the wings have orange spots.

Like all swallowtails, this one has finger like projections on its back wings.

Several other types of swallowtail butterflies are primarily black in color. I had pretty much been identifying all the black colored swallowtails as spicebush swallowtails until I went to Texas and got things straight.

On a field trip to a hillside bog led by Joe Liggio, I had the opportunity to study this butterfly at close range. It was greedily slurping nectar from red milkweed (Asclepia rubra) so I was able to get several good pictures with my low end point & shoot camera.  I was then able to show my photos to a smarter person who explained it all to me.

The butterflies weren’t just there to give me a photo op.  The males were busily scouring the woods, roadsides and woodland edges to find receptive females.

The plan is that after mating, females lay single eggs on the underside of a host plant’s leaves. Caterpillars hatch from the eggs and live inside the folded leaves – coming out to feed at night.

The heads of the caterpillars are marked with unique dots that look like the eyes and mouth of a cartoon snake.  The scary markings are thought to be a survival mechanism.   Check out this Wikipedia link for a good picture of the wanky caterpillar.  The adults, by the way, look very similar to the unpalatable Pipevine Swallowtail.

So… this species survives due to mimicry.  The larva has a scary clown face and the grownups look like they wouldn’t taste very good.

The caterpillars are hosted mainly by spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum).  Sometimes prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), and redbay (Persea borbonia) also serve as hosts.

Adults are likely to be found in deciduous woodlands, fields, roadsides, yards, pine barrens, wooded swamps, and parks from southern Canada to Florida and west to Oklahoma.

I was happy to see this butterfly in abundance in Texas because several of its host plants are susceptible to the laurel wilt disease that is invading Mississippi. In the part of Texas that I visited, the spicebush, sassafras, and redbay do not seem to be succumbing to the disease.

Hopefully it will stay that way and the spicebush swallowtail will continue to prosper.


Sense of Place

I returned from a whirlwind trip to Texas a couple of days ago.  I had a grand time at the Lone Star Regional Native Plant Conference.  I also enjoyed staying with my friends Peter and Cassandra Loos at their home in Chireno.

The great thing about staying at someone’s house is that you really get to know them well.   I had plenty of unstructured time to explore the garden.  I was mentored in this venture by The Dude and Aletris.

The Dude, by the way, is the oldest boy of my dogs, Dotsie and B.  He is Junebug’s brother.  I was there when he was born and it delights me that he has such a happy home.  But… I digress – that’s enough about dog genealogy for now!

The Loos garden (where The Dude abides) has a very strong sense of place.  You could probably guess that it was in East Texas or the vicinity just by looking at the pictures.   The house is Cassandra’s family’s old home place.   Native plants from the region are planted throughout the landscape.  Some, like the black eyed Susans in the front yard, simply volunteered and were allowed to stay.

Aletris likes to hang in the front garden admiring the wildflowers.

Cassandra's windmill was sited with a pasture backdrop. This little vignette announces to visitors that "You're in Texas now!"

Peter collects petrified wood as well as plants.  He sets the big pieces vertically like small sculptures and uses small chunks to edge beds.

The Dude abides near a bed edged with petrified wood.

Pete procured several ceramic heads from our friend Marc Pastorek.  They are mounted on 4″x4″ posts covered with native wisteria (Wisteria frutescens).

This guy seems startled to find native wisteria twining through his nose. Do you blame him?

Pete has established a small prairie full of native Texas prairie plants.

Eastern Gamma Grass (Tripsicum dactyloides) blooms with other wildflowers in Pete's prairie.

I felt refreshed and invigorated by the time I spent in the Loos garden.  But… I was not inspired to rush home and try to make my garden look like Texas.

The beauty of this garden is that it fits perfectly into its surroundings and reflects the personalities of those who live there.  I wish the same for my own garden.


Roadside Botany in the Florida Panhandle

I’ve tried to resist but I must post more pictures of the Florida roadsides.  These shots were taken on a wonderful little road (Highway 65) that goes through the Appalachicola National Forest near Tallahassee.

I got up close and personal with this purple flowered pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea).

These areas are burned annually.  The pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants depend on it.  The picture above shows part of the trumpet shaped leaf that acts as a trap for unsuspecting insects.  This technique allows the plant to meet its nutritional needs with tasty insects.  When I look at the picture above in Photoshop using the “actual pixils” setting, I can see the downward pointing hairs that prevent an unfortunate insect from crawling back out of the trap.

My friend Peter Loos explores a huge stand of trumpet leaf pitcher plants (Sarracenia flava) and pygmy cypress trees.

The pygmy cypress trees look like cultivated bonsais.  They have striking form.  The soil here is extremely infertile so these trees are stunted versions of pond cypress (Taxodium distichum var. nutans a.k.a T. ascendens).  On a river bank with fertile soil, pond cypress can attain a height of 100’+.

Most of our native orchids like this tuberous grass pink (Calopogon tuberosus) thrive in areas that are frequently burned.

Unlike the tropical orchids which are hothouse flowers, many of our native orchids thrive in areas that are burned often.  Without the fire, they will disappear.

This sweet little orchid the pale grass pink (Calopogon pallidus) was a new one for my life list.

The exciting thing about this trip is that I had quite a long lists of plants that were “new” to me.  The pale grass pink orchid was lovely.

We found this native iris commonly called Dixie iris (Iris hexagona) growing in a ditch.

We were surprised to find an iris blooming so late.  This one was part of a fairly big stand and was growing with lovely yellow colic root (Aletris lutea).

I do love some roadside botany.  I’ve found many of these same plants while crawling through the ditches in south Mississippi and LA (Lower Alabama).   I may try to grow the Dixie iris in my garden.  The rest of these I will admire from afar.


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