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The Honeysuckle Challenge at Fontainebleau Nature Trail

It must be spring if the Honeysuckle Azaleas are blooming. But, that is just one of many spring plants showing off their colors across coastal Mississippi, and one of the best places to see many is at the Fontainebleau Nature Trail in Ocean Springs. Part of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge, this 1.7-mile long trail winds its way through a variety of habitat types that are sporting their own set of spring blooms.

The queen of them all for me is the Pink Honeysuckle Azalea, one of our three native species. Once you see the flowers, the name makes sense as their shape is like that of honeysuckles. To me, the clusters of flowers with their elongate stamens and pistils are dramatic. Flame Azaleas also bloom this time of year across the bottomland forests of the Pascagoula River, with orange to yellow blossoms. Summer Azaleas sport bright white flowers in Bayhead Swamps in June.

So, on your way to see the Pink Azaleas at Fontainebleau in the next week (first week of April), I challenge you to also find some of my “other” favorite spring plants – some with blossoms, some without – along the way. Here are a few, with hints about where to find them:

1. After traveling from the parking lot, through the woodland, across the fire lane, and through the open pine forest, you will reach the first wooden overlook deck – where Sassafras is showing off its three types of leaves – a trefoil (three-lobed), mitten-shaped, and simple leaf.

2. Down the hill and across the boardwalk that crosses the Bayhead Swamp, the Cinnamon Ferns have central spikes of cinnamon-colored spores.

3. Up the hill and to the next bayou overlook is where the Pink Azaleas are the best!

4. More Azaleas can be found at the wooden bayou deck, located a few hundred yards further on – straight ahead (do not turn right at the fork).

5. Down the hill, through the Bayhead, and back up again will eventually lead you to the Wet Pine Savanna where the Buttercups are blooming. In case you were not aware, these flowers belong to the Yellow Top Pitcher Plant, their new green pitchers growing from the base.

6. Try not to step on the many, small (about the size of a quarter) Sundews growing along the path. Look for the tiny bugs catch on the leaves.

7. Across the wooden walkway, and on to the intersection of the short loop, take a left and look for the white blossoms of Buckwheat on the left side of the trail – and to its left, a light pink-flowered variant.

Many other flowers can be seen along the way, with many more showing up in the coming weeks. This trail is a great one to visit several times throughout spring and summer to see the progression of the more than 350 species of grasses, sedges, and flowering plants that call this habitat home. Native orchids will be blooming here soon!

What is your reward for finding my list of plants, you ask? Self-satisfaction of course, not to mention a good walk in nature. And although this is one of my favorite nature trails to visit throughout the year, there are many more in coastal Mississippi to explore, including the Dees Trail at the refuge headquarters near Gautier. Stay tuned for more challenges – on more of my “favorite” trails.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

P.S. Tag us in your Honeysuckle Challenge pictures on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter – @ourmshome

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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