Mudding in Mississippi: Oak Open Days - June 27-29, 2014

Originally published in Oak News & Notes, Vol. 18, No. 2

Mature Quercus alba × lyrata at the Westpoint Airport. Photo: ©Ryan Russell

Rain, mud, mosquitos, great trees, and wonderful people, all contributed to a successful Oak Open Day event held in Mississippi, June 27-29. Visitors from eight states gathered in West Point, MS for an event organized by Dudley Phelps and Ryan Russell. The tours included four venues, each with distinct variations in landscapes. From natural growth forests to unusual urban trees; manicured landscapes to a commercial nursery, participants experienced it all.
Visitors gathered Friday evening at the Mossy Oak[i] Biologic and Nativ Nurseries headquarters in West Point, for a rainy carpool to the welcome reception held at a cabin built in 1832 out of American chestnut. There we were greeted by Mossy Oak founder, Toxey Haas, and offered an impromptu vehicular tour of the area surrounding the cabin, to marvel at a mature Quercus falcata Michx. It is speculated that this tree is actually a hybrid, but while everyone agreed it was beautiful, no conclusion was drawn about its

The broad range of F2 seedlings from Quercus nigra × texana at Nativ Nurseries. Photo: ©Ryan Russell

parentage. Once gathered back at the cabin, our group had supper consisting of grilled kebobs, salad, and rice prepared by Mossy Oak staff.

Saturday brought overcast skies and mild drizzle. Participants toured a leased hunting property known locally as the Cotton Mill, just outside of West Point in all-terrain vehicles while being plagued by mosquitos. The first stop was at a grove of Q. ×beadlei Trel. ex E. J. Palmer surrounded by Q. michauxii Nutt., Q. sinuata Walter var. sinuata and Carya carolinae-septentrionalis (Ashe) Engl. & Graebn.

Chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius Fr.) abounded in the undergrowth of these magnificent trees.

A late lunch at the Twisted Burger, a gas station turned restaurant, allowed the group to visit and discuss the trees they had seen. After lunch, the group carpooled to several trees within the city of West Point, as rain clouds gathered. The first afternoon stop was at a large Q. alba L. × lyrata Walter near the City Airport on the

Quercus falcata × phellos. Photo: ©Ryan Russell

northernmost edge of the property we had toured that morning. This tree exhibits characteristics intermediate between each parent almost perfectly. The next stop was at the Mossy Oak brand licensing building in the middle of downtown. The tree here is a large Q. falcata × phellos L. that grows right on the property line and is divided by a privacy fence. This hybrid can be determined by the rounded base, a characteristic of Q. falcata as opposed to the acute base of Q. pagoda Raf. seen in Q. ×ludoviciana Sarg. As we headed out of town for the last stop of the day, we made a slight detour to the home of a friend of Mr. Haas where we saw a young Q. ×moultonensis Ashe. This tree has been dubbed “The Generator” as it produces huge crops of acorns each year. After a short drive out of town, with rain threatening, the group stopped to view a handsome Q. ×neopalmeri Sudw. and a putative Q. nigra L. × texana Buckley on a manicured estate owned by Mr. Jimmy Bryan. These trees have been determined by Dudley after years of growing seedlings and observing traits of the parent tree. Both of these trees were bought from a local landscape company as Q. shumardii Buckley. After a long, tree-filled day, the majority consensus was as follows: shower, supper and bed.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny as the group met in Starkville to tour the University of Mississippi (MSU) campus. On campus we were introduced to campus extension arborist, Jason Gordon. MSU was founded in 1878 and covers 4,400 ac/1,480 ha, which includes campus and several research farms throughout the state. MSU was the second campus in the state of Mississippi to receive the Tree Campus USA status. Jason stated that work on a campus tree inventory was started in 2013 and is ongoing.

The first tree we visited on campus was another mature Q. alba × lyrata. This tree was the first tree that Nativ Nurseries began collecting from. At first, it was thought to be a pure white oak, but after careful observation of

Quercus similis at the Cotton Mill. Photo: ©Ryan Russell

seedlings and closer inspection to the parent tree, it was found to be a hybrid. We then stopped at a putative Q. stellata Wangenh. × virginiana Mill. After several minutes of debate, no consensus was reached as to its heritage. The next tree was a conundrum as well. Planted along a row of Q. phellos, was a tree that has stumped the Mossy Oak crew. It was finally decided that this tree was likely a Q. palustris Münchh.× nigra. Further observation is needed to confirm the suspicion. The group was astounded by a Q. macrocarpa Michx. that was planted in 1976. Many in the group would have dated it at 70-100 years old if found in colder climates. We then stopped at a mature specimen of Q. nigra × pagoda. The intermediate leaves were quite beautiful.

The day concluded with a visit to the Mossy Oak Nativ Nursery greenhouse, where Dudley Phelps walked us through their process of collecting, growing, and mailing their seedlings. Each attendee was able to pick out a seedling to take home. Attendees then said good-bye to old friends and new friends, with promises to keep in touch and hopes to see each other at next year’s conference in Chicago.

A full account of the tours will be published in the upcoming edition of International Oaks. I would like to thank the organizers, Dudley Phelps and Ryan Russell for an exciting and informational OOD. I would also like to extend a personal thank you to Toxey Hass, Vandy Stubbs, and Jesse Raley of Mossy Oak, and Jason Gordon of MSU for their hospitality and participation in this event.


[i] Mossy Oak was founded in 1986 as a hunting camouflage manufacturer and has expanded their lines to hunting equipment, Biologic, real estate, Nativ Nurseries, etc. The original camouflage design was based on the bark of Quercus margaretta (Ashe) Small .