Wildflower Tour makes for a wonderful day

Published 6:00 am Sunday, July 30, 2017

By Judy Davis

It takes approximately an hour from Oxford to get to the Jaimie L. Whitten Plant Material Center where research is done on native plants and their pollinators. It is near Coffeeville.

Our group (Lady Landowners) started a one-day excursion with a lecture by the Delta-based Lynn Libous-Bailey. She works for the United States Department of Agriculture and uses a microscope. She recommends a magnifying glass as a gift for a gardener. Mrs. Bailey stated that one flower might be hundreds of flowers. Mrs. Bailey suggested that lightening bugs are on the decrease due to people keeping their yards so clean these days. There are no larvae in one’s yard. I wondered what happened to lightning bugs for many years. I was glad for an explanation.

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The lightning bugs were thick even in town when I was a child. My brothers and I used to catch them with a jar and lid at dusk.

A Black Eye Susan is my favorite wildflower. It is a member of the Aster family. Black Eye Susan used to grow spontaneously along Pea Ridge Road. They are gone now for the most part. I object to the cutting of native flowers on the side of the road. I would stop my car on Pea Ridge Road to pick Black Eye Susan for an arrangement. Pea Ridge Road is County Road 321.

The lectures along the wagon ride through the fields of native plants were a magical mystery tour for gardeners. The first topic was soil preparation for wildflowers. John Fazio spoke about soil preparation for homeowners. Mr. DeFazio is with the Conservation Service.

The second stop on the tour focused on Milkweed and Monarch butterflies. There was a large bed of Milkweed there. Glynda Clary, a Conservation Service State Biologist, spoke. Milkweed, common to Mississippi, is blue. (purple is blue in nature) You can plant pollinator friendly plants for food and habitat for pollinators. How is this done? Plant native plants that are consistent and adapted to the surrounding environment. Unlike any other butterfly, Monarchs migrate 3,000 miles from March to August. Why do Monarchs need Milkweed for food? Milkweed toxin is not poison to Monarchs, however, it makes them bitter so their predators won’t eat them.

Another native flower seen at the Plant Center that I like very much is the Sunflower. Sunflowers are tall (probably 5 or 6 feet) golden suns that are still around in the fall. The gold light from the sun in the fall is consistent with the gold autumn color of the Sunflower. It makes a beautiful fall bouquet.

Black Eye Susan is gold colored too and many varieties bloom in the fall. I’ve found that if one cuts the dead flowers back in the spring, the Black Eye Susan will bloom in the fall too.

The last stop was Dr. Jeff Harris speaking about honeybees and native bees. Oleander and bog Rosemary are both poisonous to humans and bees. Please be careful with these plants with children or grandchildren and should not be in the garden with bees either.

We traveled along a dirt road (muddy) in a wooden wagon with benches pulled by a large, green tractor. This delight was the most fun of the whole day. It made my year.

We had grilled burgers for lunch provided by the staff grilled on the premise. There was a $5 charge for the day’s activities.

After lunch, our bus driver took us back to Oxford. It was a great day. The sun came out near Water Valley ending the threatening rain on the way to the Plant Center making it a perfect day at 2533 County Road 65 Coffeeville.

Judy Davis is an Oxford resident. You can reach her at jd72gorebs@att.net.