A Backyard Micro-Prairie

I had thirty minutes to kill, waiting for an appointment time the other day when I was coming into Maurice, Louisiana, so I thought I would call Angela Trahan. Angela works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services division, as a Coastal Restoration Biologist. She and her husband bought some cajun prairie seed mix from me last November for a small prairie garden in their back yard of about a quarter acre,  square in shape. She was at work and said I was welcome to go by and see what I thought. She said the neighbors had been asking questions like, ”What are ya’ll doin’ there?”

The Trahan prairie planting, near Maurice, La

The Trahans had done several tillings and an herbicide spraying last summer to kill germinating weed seeds and she put the seed cajun prairie seed out in November, about the time the severe drought in southwest Louisiana broke. It has regularly rained ever since. My initial look at the site was one of doubt, but as I parted the head-high prairie tide and walked in to see, I saw it was littered pretty well with dog fennel, a weedy disturbance-dependent plant. But for the most part, the planting is doing very well, with about thirty species counted, in all of my quick zig-zagging through. It was pretty thick with Wooly Croton or Dove weed, croton capitata., which was part of the seed mix. There were significant species scattered consistently, through the whole of the plot.

It’s always fun to see grasshoppers and skipper butterflies (those are really small and fast: they don’t loiter much). They burst ahead of me by the score as I pushed a path through the foliage. I remember reading once that plenty of grasshoppers in a prairie signals a healthy habitat. The more grasshoppers, the healthier the habitat. I took a bunch of pics and made some mental notes and got out of there in time for my appointment. There were lots of really cool plants in the prairie and in less than one year, the vegetation had grown to about seventy percent coverage by targeted/ seeded species. Its only the beginning. Time will draw the prairie closer to the ground as the shorter grasses and wildflowers take over.  The weedy looking plants like dog fennel will decline and go away while the rare, high conservancy species, will take over. Each year, it will change and morph somewhat, revealing new species that had made enough root to finally support a blossom. It will slowly reveal the biodiversity garden.

Their fenced dog barked and sounded the alarm at me for the latter part of my visit. He didn’t like me messing around on his turf. Best of all of the finds was a way-cool spider. It was plump. I suspect it was making a pretty good living in those weeds.

I’m not actually holding the spider, my hand is just behind the web he is on. For scale and for scare.

Hibiscus Mosheutos seedling from Malcolm Vidrine’s garden, waiting for a good burn so it can get back into the race.

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