all kinds of ‘espearamentin’ with cool seed

LSU Environmental Systems class, designs gardens, plants seed at NORA experimental lot on Marigny street – Gentilly neighborhood, New Orleans, La

I prepared ground for Prof. Wes Michael’s Landscape Architecture class last Friday. The class layed-out and then seeded four designs at one of experimental-research vacant-lot properties owned by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, on Saturday April 8. I stopped by yesterday, just a week later, on my way out of the big City to check on progress and saw lots of seedling germination activity. Lots going on, given our rainy, overcast latter part of the week.


I used a chain harrow to rake existing vegetation and expose soil; no herbicides here, folks. When I was done, it was bare dirt, ready for the student’s seed.




The class designed their own planting projects with an assortment of seed combinations that Wes acquired. Wes tells me that he could see the excitement in the students eyes when they began handling the seed packets. These are color gardens, experimental prototypes, designed to liven-up the neighborhood and lift community spirits.


LSU Hammond constructing large, expansive grass gardens for research and demonstration purposes

I met with Dr. Yan Chen, Gina Hebert, Jason Stagg, and J.J. Gulley at the Hammond AgCenter Botanical Gardens Last week for a brief visit. We toured the gardens and greenhouses to see the progress they’ve made in the last six months with seed they have been propagating from the original seed that we collected and donated for their use in experimental design. They are doing wonderful things at the gardens. They’re making great strides toward research based gardens of all sorts with prairie species vegetation.


above, This is one of five large new gardens to be planted in July this year. Another batch of similar sized gardens are going in next year, just to the south of these. Dr. Yan and her associate Jason Stagg, in the background, give scale to the size of the new garden.


Dr. Yan and some of her native grasses, last week, in the greenhouse at the AgCenter research station, Hammond, Louisiana. Behind her is a nice crop of seedling Side Oats Gramma grass, grown from seed, from plants I collected last June from a Cameron Parish roadside.


above, a nice lush crop of Purple Top grass, a fall flowering grass with horticultural promise.


a tray, above, of seedlings of Eupatorium hyssopifolium, a super-duper pollinator species


above, amazing seedlings stands of Rudbeckia texana, Texas coneflower, foreground. Somebody’s got a green thumb. 🙂


Among other things, Dr. Allen Owings, Dr. Yan and her staff have been experimenting with developing all  native meadow gardens. Get out there and see what the Botanical Garden staff is up to.


LSU’s Conservation Biology Lab 4017 gathers data in Hammond prairie habitat

Dr. Bill Platt’s class worked three days gathering data different sorts of data in the prairie at Chappapeela Park


above, the “pollinator crew” making observations and taking notes on pollinators working on Baptisia and Cersium plants in the prairie, last Thursday


Dr. Platt explains the method of pollen transfer for Baptisa via Bee nectaring


The bee goes for the nectar with his or her mouthpart and in the process, opens the enclosure of the stamens, gathering pollen inadvertently with its legs, then transfers the pollen to the next flower, and so on. He says the Bee likely sees if the flower has been “worked”, through its ultra violet vision, and moves directly to the ones not yet worked.

The students and Dr. Platt will likely burn the prairie at Chappapeela soon. We were rained out on Tuesday, trying again for next week.


thistles are important species for early nectaring pollinators

Common Thistle and Carolina Moonlight Baptisia videos with bumble bees feeding and pollinating, below


LSU’s Hilltop Arboretum, one step closer to authentic fire-driven natural prairie exhibits

Since 2009, I have been working on-and-off as a consultant to Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects, to guide the idea of incorporating prairie landscapes into the Hilltop Arboretum design. We are now steering ever closer to prairie reality. Last Monday, Dr. William J. Platt met with the Hilltop Board of Directors to described the concept and process of fire management for grasslands and how they could easily be incorporated into the Arboretum design. Working with Doug Reed, Garrett Newton and others, we’ve developed a beautifully simple design that will be home to four different native Louisiana prairie habitat types. These gardens will incorporate walking, strolling paths that will double as fire lanes, strategically placed to contain the controlled burns needed to bring life to these Arboretum exhibits

Dr. Platt is not only a brilliant Biologist, he’s one of the foremost authorities in the country on the science of fire ecology. Prior to the meeting, Dr. Platt answered written questions asked by Peggy Davis, the Director of the Arbo. Some of what Dr. Platt answered is below…about reconstructing prairie landscapes…     ……I hope you enjoy reading this….

Hi Peggy,

I inserted your comments into this return email – it may facilitate productive discussion if you want to know more about fire-frequented habitats and about me.

Peggy writes…..The purpose of our meeting is to learn more about how to conduct a controlled burn at Hilltop in what will be four different native meadow types 1/3 acre in size (Cajun Prairie, Long Leaf Pine Savanna, Post Oak Savanna and Calcareous Prairie).

All four of these meadows/grasslands/savannas are native plant communities in ecosystems that are fire-maintained and contain species of plants and animals adapted for frequent fire. Indeed, these ecosystems across the southeast comprise one of the world’s hotspots of biodiversity and endemism. This means that these ecosystems occur nowhere else in the world and contain many (thousands) of plant species restricted to the region. Moreover, these are old habitats that go back 5-15 million years, to the Miocene, when savannas and grasslands spread worldwide as a result of global drying and cooling.

I attached a paper (Noss et al. 2015) that describes the North American Coastal Plain as a biodiversity hotspot, and I am one of the primary authors of this paper. In a recent newletter, the Critical Endangered Ecosystem program featured the North American Coastal Plain

I think the idea of establishing native prairie and/or savanna vegetation at Hilltop Arboretum is a very innovative and exciting idea. Louisiana is part of the North American Coastal Plain, one of the world’s hotspots of biodiversity and endemism. There are 36 hotspots and together they contain more than half the world’s species of plants and vertebrates. The diversity of plant and animal species endemic to the hotspot in which we live (almost 2000 species of plants and about 500 species of vertebrates) is highly concentrated (about 85%) in pine savannas and prairies. Most of the plant species are grasses and herbs and all are strongly dependent on fire – very frequent fire. Scientists have made good progress in learning how to reconstruct and restore these habitats, as well as maintain them using prescribed fires, and Marc Pastorek has conducted some of the most successful restorations in our area.  The resulting meadows….are full of flowering plants that bloom from spring through the fall, and they attract native insects like butterflies and bees. People really seem to enjoy walking through these meadows and they find the displays really intriguing and beautiful.


As you can easily see, Louisiana is entirely within this hotspot of biodiversity. This hotspot concept could be one way to interest the public in native ecosystems, as well as in the grassland/meadows you are contemplating restoring at Hilltop Arboretum. The fire component is essential to the hotspot concept. Fully 85% of the endemic plant species in the North American coastal plain occur in pine savannas and prairies. So these species are important to consider in constructing a regional arboretum. I have previously worked with Crosby Arboretum to establish such landscapes. The basic logic is that these are the most important ecosystems in the region, as far as biodiversity is concerned, and so they need to be featured in our arboretums.

The four types of prairies/grasslands/savannas all occur in Louisiana, and all now have <1% of their original area conserved. So, the emphasis has been on conservation of these areas, and more recently on restoration. Marc Pastorek has been instrumental in developing some very general procedures to replant the grassland component of these ecosystems. Once planted they need to have a very frequent fire regime. Our prior studies on these ecosystems all indicate that fires occurred on average every 1,2 or 3 years, mainly from lightning-ignited fires in the spring. The species of plants tend to be perennials with underground roots and buds that survive the fires, and many of these species are adapted for post-fire conditions, when they flower and seeds become established. So, fire is an integral part of the environment, like sunshine and rain.

What is the process required to seek permission to conduct controlled burns?  Does one need a permit and from whom?  If so, how long does it take to get a permit and for what period of time is a permit typically issued?

The procedure for instituting prescribed fires varies with locality. Most urban areas have banned “uncontrolled” fires. When I first moved to Baton Rouge from Tallahassee in 1988, outside burning of leaves was permitted, but in the 1990s, this practice was banned. Exceptions can be made, however, for prescribed fires. A prescribed fire is one that has a burn plan. This is a written plan for how a site will be burned. It considers the weather and smoke emissions. With such a burn plan, and appropriate notification of authorities (such as police and fire departments), the procedure becomes sanctioned and the prescribed fire manager can not be sued for damages due to an “act of nature”. The person who would act to develop the plan, obtain the permits as needed and conduct the fire in this case would be Marc Pastorek. As fire manager (colloquially we refer to this person as the fire boss), his word is the final say-so, and fires are conducted in a military-style command, with the fire boss in command of the operation. This is the most effective ay to conduct prescribed fires, and all organizations involved in such operations act in this way. Typically, the permit process is instituted well in advance (often a year) and once conducted, permits typically are renewed. The LSU Department of Renewable Natural Resources conducts prescribed fire classes for accreditation of prescribed fire managers every year, and it would be a good idea for people who participate in the prescribed fires to be trained in basic fire safety through this program. As a prescribed fire manager, I am much more comfortable having volunteers help, for example, if they have had the basic fire course.

How do you conduct a controlled burn in a setting such as ours without creating a negative impact on our adjoining neighbors?  Could the controlled burns be timed as to not negatively impact the use of our site for events and activities in the spring (March – May)?

Conducting a prescribed fire, as I indicated above, is done through a prescribed fire plan.This plan lays out the actions taken (in sequence) during the prescribed fire. It contains contingencies (for example, if the wind shifts, increases, or decreases). In this case, actions would be most desirable that direct smoke away from neighbors, and it would be good to know if any neighbors have respiratory problems that might be acerbated by smoke. Also, the flammability of structures such as wooden fences should be ascertained. All of these would be used to tailor the prescribed fire for the site. With very small sizes, it should be possible to have each fires completed within an hour, with little smoke or residual smoldering. Honestly, these would be very simple fires that should not attract attention from neighbors (although neighbors should know when the fires will occur so they don’t call fire departments or police).

The optimum times for prescribed fires in these planned habitats are April-May (today would have been a good day, with wind out of the north and warm, lifting air to take the smoke up away from ground level. The natural fires occurred in April, May, and June. These fires result in post-fire flowering and seeds produced after the fires can germinate and become established in the fall and next spring. Thus, the timing is crucial for flowering and seed production. Incidentally, spring fires produce major flowering displays in the fall, at those times migrating butterflies like monarchs come through, and the nectar is crucial for helping them cross the Gulf of Mexico.

To what degree would you be willing to assist us with controlled burns at Hilltop?   Have you been involved in controlled burn in urban settings such as Hilltop?

I have had a lot of experience with prescribed fires over the past 40+ years (I am now 73). I designed the prescribed fire program for Everglades National Park, for many Nature Conservancy preserves, for many federal agencies like the USFS and USFWS, as well as private NGOs. I have helped people design fire programs for their private lands. Marc and I have recently designed such a program for Chapapeela Sports Park in Hammond. So, yes I have lots of experience,and I have developed an art as well as science of prescribed fire. The effects achieved are based in science, but it is knowing the conditions likely to produce desired results that elevates the landscape produced to something that can be incredibly spectacular.

So, once I turned 70, I decided not to be a prescribed fire boss any more. I am getting old, and my eyesight and age are making it hard for me to be an effective fire boss. But, I can work with Marc and others to develop the program and oversee the fires. after all, I live only a few blocks away from Hilltop. The price of my involvement is simple – my dogs have to be allowed to come with me when I am over there. I have two bassets – Greg and Duane (Allman) – that are as old as I am in dog years, but they too are young at heart and would love to explore Hilltop. 


Louisiana Children’s Museum, NOLA, design phase nearly complete

After a year of working on the details of the design for the New Children’s Museum gardens in City Park, Mithun will wrap-up the final touches and send it out for bid proposal sometime very soon so that construction of the museum can begin. What an amazing process and and tremendously enjoyable task it has been working with the talented folks at Mithun. Thanks to a few people who had input, were consulted, for different points of view regarding some of the specifics, including Biologists – Dr. Charles Allen, Dr. William Platt, Dr. Malcolm Vidrine, Landscape Architects John Mayronne and Robin Tanner, Nurseryman Rick Webb, and soil specialist Grant Estrade. As far as I can tell, the landscape will be developed into one of the finer gardens in the south, no doubt.


a cool shade study graphic via Mithun Landscape Architects Christian Runge and Deb Guenther – of the Children’s Museum gardens – click the photo to enlarge. The design includes native gardens, natural meadows, sensory gardens and so much more. I can’t wait to see the project finished, sometime in late 2017.


LaDOT – City of Mandeville prairie conservation area defines botanical magic!


Hopefully I am not the only person enjoying the Mandeville Wildflower Conservation Area. Its one of two gardens, totaling a little over an acre, planted a year and a half ago, that have developed beautifully into fine-fuel gardens with real character (and characters!). Get out there and discover what this fair City has provided; a cool, all native Pine prairie. It is just coming into flower with interseeded annuals and in a couple weeks, will be purple in large patches, with Monarda citriodora just about to bloom (we’ve added extra color to the garden just to catch the eye of passers-by – folks like you).

IMG_6915 IMG_6930

above, two Dicantheliums (Panicums), a giant, fuzzy leafed one (scoparium) and a tiny demure one  (laxiflorus), hanging out at the corner of La Highway 190 at Causeway Approach


nice, lush stands of Little Bluestem grass sod, carpets the ground at the Mandeville garden


Granted, it doesn’t look like much, really, but if you know Bluestem like I know Bluestem, you’d be impressed, too! There are tens of thousands of Bluestem plants out there, all from seed.


a Long Leaf pine patiently awaits our controlled burn, planned for late May – lots of fuel for the burning! Yay!


above, Bushy Bluestem still hanging on to last year’s inflorescences


yearling seedlings of Milkweed go into the Indian grass patches at the hacienda gardens



My theory on native Milkweed establishment is that fire is necessary to their ecology, to sustain them. So I burned my three year old Indian grass patch in the front garden last week while tidying up the yard, and planted my yearling Asclepias obovatas right smack dab in the middle of the burnt grass patch. The Milkweeds will quickly form a partnership with the Indian grass – a symbiotic union – a marriage made in heaven! Milkweeds like grass landscapes and the fire the grasses provide- and what native grass would just love a flammable Milkweed? Probably none!


above, seedling Pine Land Milkweeds, happy to get their little feetses’ out of their pots and into the soil, where I am sure, the whippersnapper plants will likely grow and be quite content, thank you.


Botanist Chris Reid to present program on Characteristics and Conservation of Coastal Prairie Rangelands in Southwest Louisiana at Prairie Society meeting

Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society Spring Meeting and Tours-Saturday, May 14, 2016

8:00 AM:  Tours of Duralde Restored Prairie.   Directions: Take LA 13 north out of Eunice and after crossing a bridge, go about 1.5 miles and turn left onto La 374.  If coming from the north on La 13, about 6 miles south of Mamou, just past the Fire Station, turn right onto La 374.  Follow La 374 west and it will take a sharp right then a sharp left.  After straightening out from the sharp left, go about 0.5 miles and turn left at the first double intersection.  You will be turning left onto a gravel road that is Navy Road. Navy Road is about 2 miles from La 13.  Follow Navy Road and it will take a sharp right and then will start a sharp left but you will not turn at the left but drive straight into Duralde Prairie.

10:00 AM:   Eunice Restored Prairies; meet at the corners of Martin Luther King and East Magnolia and enjoy the best restored prairie in the United States.  This site is north of U.S. 190 and east of La 13.  For those of you coming from the north on La 13, turn left (east) at the first paved road (East Magnolia) to the east after you cross the railroad tracks in Eunice.  Go a couple of blocks and the prairie is on your left.  For those coming from the east on U.S. 190 turn right (north) at the first red/green traffic light and follow Martin Luther King Drive for a couple of blocks and the prairie is on your left.  For those coming from the west on U.S. 190, follow U.S. 190 through Eunice and after crossing a railroad track, go to the next red/green traffic light and turn left onto Martin Luther King Drive (See above).  For those coming from the south on La 13, when you reach the stop sign, turn right onto Maple Ave.  Follow Maple for about 3 or 4 blocks and at the 2nd four way stop sign, turn left onto Martin Luther King Drive.  Follow this street across U.S. 190 and see above.

12 noon   Lunch at Rocky’s Restaurant located at 1415 E Laurel Ave, Eunice, LA 70535  (337) 457-6999.


Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society meeting.


the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program State Botanist Chris Reid will be presenting on the characteristics and conservation of coastal prairie ranglands in southwest Louisiana.

NEW!!!.  There will be a native plant and prairie seed auction at the end of the meeting.  Bring your donated potted native plants and your checkbook.

For more details about the meeting and or tours, contact Dr. Charles Allen 337-328-2252 or email or find us on Facebook and twitter.


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