By Kara Kimbrough
Mississippi doesn’t always get a lot of love from other parts of the country – in fact, we sometimes get overlooked altogether by those looking for scenic places to visit in the spring. And that’s a shame, as our state is filled with natural beauty, ranging from delicate dogwood trees to breathtaking azaleas and hundreds of other flowering trees and shrubs. Even better, a lot of Mississippi’s most beautiful foliage is growing wild in rural or off-the-beaten path settings. The only way to experience everything our state has to offer is to set out on a road trip or at the very least, plan to stop and enjoy scenic spots when enroute to other places.
Here is a list of a few areas filled with some of the best of nature’s beauty right now. Feel free to email me if you’d like me to share one of your favorite spots.
1. Pick up any travel magazine or browse the internet and you’ll likely read about and see photos of the breathtakingly-beautiful cherry blossoms in bloom in Washington, D.C. and New York City’s Central Park. As a result, I wondered if Mississippi, known for its ability to grow almost anything in our rich soil, contained any of the vivid pink blooms. I was surprised to learn that the elusive blooms do grow in north Mississippi. In fact, I just missed Tupelo’s Cherry Blossom Festival.
Even though the trees are difficult to grow here, Tupelo's Parks and Recreation experts have done an amazing job of cultivating the rare blooms, so much so that an entire festival is staged to allow visitors form around the country to enjoy them. It’s something I’ll definitely plan to attend next year. Trees are still blooming in the city, but call before you go to make sure our tricky weather hasn’t decimated the delicate blooms.
2. If you’re traveling the Natchez Trace this spring, make time to slow down and look for flowering dogwood and redbud trees. You'll also be treated to miles and miles of wildflowers, azaleas and other spring foliage growing in natural settings.
3. On the western side of the state, the Vicksburg National Military Park is abounding in beauty this time of year. Put aside your feelings about the infamous war and drive through the rolling hills to view over 60 varieties of flowering trees and shrubs. Expect to see delicate dogwood and Japanese magnolia trees, along with multi-hued blooms and vibrant green foliage throughout the spacious park.
4. Over in Natchez, azaleas are in full bloom throughout the city, along with a multitude of vivid flowers and shrubs. Take a tour of one of the antebellum homes to view stunning gardens or simply drive around the city to see spring abounding on almost every street.
5. The eastern part of the state is also filled with scenic spots. Just two that come to mind are Dunn’s Falls and historic Rose Hill Cemetery in Lauderdale County. Both are filled with dogwoods, azaleas and other spring blooms.
6. A little further south, the Crosby Arboretum in Picayune also boasts cherry trees, albeit ones with slightly different blooms than the ones in Tupelo. Beautiful black cherry and choke cherry trees bloom alongside dogwoods, azaleas, star anise and other nature plants and flowers spread throughout the 104-acre native plant center.
All the discussion about cherry blossoms caused me to search for an old recipe for cherry blossom cookies. It’s one of the simplest cookie recipes you’ll ever try, but that doesn’t diminish the taste of these sweet, Hershey’s Kiss-topped treats. Like the cherry blossoms in Tupelo, once they’re out, they won’t last long.
Spring Cherry Blossom Cookies
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
3 teaspoons maraschino cherry juice
½ teaspoon almond flavoring
2-1/4 cup chopped maraschino cherries
50+ Hershey’s kisses, unwrapped
Few drops of red or pink food coloring, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat butter, confectioners' sugar and salt until well blended. Stir in cherry juice, extract and food coloring, if desired, and mix well. Gradually beat in flour, then stir in cherries.
Shape dough into one-inch balls. Place one inch apart on greased baking sheets.
Bake 8-10 minutes or until bottoms are slightly browned. As soon as pans are removed from oven, press a chocolate kiss into center of each cookie (edges will crack). Let cookies remain on pan and cool for a couple of minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at email@example.com.