Historian, naturalists label plants at historic sites

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Ever gaily sauntered on a nature trail to adore the iridescent collage of flora and fauna blended together to form an array of nature’s most primitive possessions only to realize that one could not identify any of it besides the typical poison ivy plant?

For nature lovers, there is a solution.

A long-term project to identify and label trees and plants around the grounds and along the nature trails of the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians and Historic Jefferson College is near completion. Grand Village Historian Jean Simonton, with the help of local foresters and naturalists, has carefully researched and labeled more than 240 species at the two historic sites.

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&uot;The trails are completed,&uot; Simonton said. &uot;We are in the process of ordering the remaining markers with both common and botanical names.&uot;

Because St. Catherine Creek borders both Historic Jefferson College and the Grand Village, nature trail walkers can experience this historic creek in its natural settings. &uot;Jefferson College has so many wonderful trees and plants. The beautiful streams wind in that area and cross under the bridges which make the trails beautiful,&uot; Simonton said.

Each trail extends for approximately 2 miles with a variety of blossoming wildlife.

Some interesting trees identified at Historic Jefferson College are three species of magnolia: Southern Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora), Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron Tulipifera), and Cucumber Tree (Magnolia Acuminata). Other identified trees and plants include oak-leaf hydrangea, may apple, beautyberry, pignut hickory, Carolina basswood, tung oil, Carolina buckthorn, snowbell, silverbell, Shumard red Oak, willow oak, water oak, swamp chestnut oak, American hornbeam and Eastern hop hornbeam.

Trees and plants labeled at the Grand Village include Devil’s walking stick, red buckeye, mock orange, crabapple, Osage orange, field horsetail, green dragon’s tongue, black locust, honey locust, catalpa and toothache tree.

In addition to plants, visitors to the two sites may catch a glimpse of some of Mississippi’s wildlife, including white-tailed deer, raccoon, red fox, opossum, red and gray squirrels, and armadillo.

For bird watchers, recent sightings include the pileated woodpecker, Mississippi kite, great horned owl, and kingfisher.

Simonton, who has been a member of the Grand Village staff since 1976, began her interest in wildlife as a child.

&uot;Nature has always been important to me. I grew up walking with my father and identifying trees,&uot; said Simonton.

&uot;I have always loved the trees and plants,&uot; she said.

Though much of the Natchez Indian’s knowledge of plant foods and medicines was lost with the tribe’s expulsion from this area by the French in the 1730s, Simonton, along with local naturalists Sarah Tillman and Teri Tillman and foresters Lee Jones and Charles Wellborn, have researched and identified many trees and plants that the Indians used for food and medicine along the two nature trails.

&uot;Sarah Tillman deserves special recognition. She has been identifying trees and plants at the Grand Village since 1977,&uot; said Simonton.

The maintenance staff at the Grand Village and Historic Jefferson College, including Allen Hunt, Fred Green, Hugh Sweazy, Robert Miles, and Elbert Dukes, assisted with the arduous work of setting the trail signposts and plant labels.