Make America prairie again!

Yogi Berra said “it ain’t the heat its the humility”

Dizzy Dean said ” it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”

Thanks to Jeff Carbo’s office staff for being so helpful during our collaboration process and thanks to Mr. Carbo himself for including us as horticultural and ecological consultants and in the submittal for this, our third national ASLA landscape design award. We did it!!!!!

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Switch grasses, nothing to panic about

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a Wikipedia image above, of bare lanky-long Switch grass roots

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above, in Heidi Natura’s prairie plant image above, Switch grass is eighth from the right. click photo to enlarge

Panicums and Dicantheliums are two closely related genus of grasses, common in Louisiana. You’ll find different species in different habitats across the state, in a wide range of plant communities, conditions, and soil types.

Many are particularly useful in ornamental horticulture and of course eco-restoration. Have you planted a Panicum today?

Distinguishable by their leaves and panical form inflorescences, making good cover and food plants for wildlife, they hold and build soil.

There are well over 100 species of Panicum listed in the Atlas of the Vascular Flora of Louisiana, with over forty species of Dicanthelium.

Panicum anceps –  a good short grass with a tendency to occur in bogs, flatwoods and a variety of other sites

Panicum hemotomon – if you need an invasive very aggressive short grass for really wet sites, this may be it – perfect for constructed retention basins, as it is a plant that will cover wet ground in a way no other plant will  – ideal for this use. Also, the fact that it is a grass and is so aggressive in wet conditions lends this plant to use as a fuel source for fires – fires are hard to produce sometimes when wet conditions prevail. In these circumstances – wetlands – fires often stop where the moisture begins unless the environment is experiencing a drought. Panicum hemotomon is your anwswer especially since it is short in stature and quite appropriate for the urban, designed condition.

Panicum scoparium – the large textured leaves of Velvet Panic grass feel so good to the touch. Nummy. A big, gangly early succession thing.

Panicum verrucosum –  Warty Panicum and early succession weed but a really good fine textured tall grower about four feet

Panicum virgatum – Switch grass, also known as Thatch grass and Panic grass is the most common species. When your hear the term Switch grass, its usually P. virgatum being discussed. Its a tightly running grass generally expanding a few inches each year once established. A single plant planted in my seed field fifteen years ago is now 14 feet across. P. vergatum is a generalist in that it has a wide range, occuring from Canada to the Gulf coast and from say the western rockies to the East coast. has roots that reach 8-10 feet deep. Native American built thatch roofed huts with Switch grass. Use local genetic plant material in order to assure longevity, persistence in a stand. Some genetic strains have been found to die off over time.

Like all prairie plants, Switch grass has a place in the landscape – most are wet tolerant and show up in low areas but some are dry, upland genetics, requiring soil drainage, drier soils. Both are highly adaptable to upland conditions – typical garden conditions, and are highly adaptable to most existing soils found in Louisiana and the central Gulf coastal region. I have seen a couple of instances in natural areas where Switch grass covered acres of land – huge masses – quite exceptional to see.

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Panicum virgatum was adaptable as a bio-fuel plant because it is found in so many states in the union.

I’ve used these ornamental varieties for gardens for many years and all hold up well for us – Dallas Blue, Heavy Metal, Northwind, Cloud Nine, and Brooksville Blue. But use native genetic seed for ecological restoration work.

Dicanthelium laxiflorum – a three inch tall, maximum height – one foot diamete grass – a very fine textured ground cover clumping plant, very delicate somewhat ornamental in charater

Dicanthelium scabriusculum – the big Pitcher plant Panic grass with medium textured leaves

Dicanthelium aciculare – fine textured one foot tall plant

Dicanthelium commutatum – Variable Panic grass, present in every Parish but one, commonly found

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Photographs from Charlotte and Jean’s St Tammany Parish prairie garden

My friends Charlotte and Jean developed this front yard prairie garden with seed bought from us. Charlotte says she like the garden a bit wholly. She was kind enough to send me these photos and when I asked, gave permission to publish them. We will be using them for our new website, currently in construction.

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April, Baptisia

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Beard tongues and Poc-poc plants

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August Bushmints and Bushy Bluestems

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September Goldenrods and Asters

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October

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December is for masses of grasses

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Seidenberg Home Garden, St Tammany Parish, La

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a dirty dozen Abstract Prairie Facts

  • About 2.5 million acres of Tall grass coastal prairie once existed in southwestern Louisiana, with possibly 5 million acres of Long Leaf Pine herbaceous understory vegetation (pine prairie)
  • Prairie is one of the rarest ecosystems in Louisiana
  • as much as 80% of the biomass of vegetation in a prairie consists of grasses; however only 20% of the plant species are grasses
  • 142 million acres of Tall grass prairie once existed in North America.
  • approximately .01% —– one hundredth of one percent of the original ancient prairie exists today – with more lost each consecutive year.
  • Tall grass prairie forbs are found nowhere else but in prairies
  • The climate for Louisiana was suited for trees as well as it was for grasses. Fires that periodically burned across the landscape helped to keep the balance in favor of prairies. Most species, except for certain Oaks, Hickories and Pines, do not tolerate fire and are killed back or killed off
  • Prairie produce most of their growth during the hot months of summer and are mostly dormant in winter
  • Much of the prairie in the Midwest originated from prairies in the Southeastern U.S. when the glacial period ended and ocean levels receded during the Cretaceous period
  • commonly, over 300 species of plants have been found in Tall grass prairies, with Gulf coastal prairies exhibiting more species than those in the mid-western and more northern parts of the Tall grass system
  •  60-70% of the biomass of prairies us found below the surface of the soil – only 30 – 40% is above ground biomass
  • as much as fifty percent of all prairie plant roots die in winter, to regrow new ones in summer. This is one way prairie plants create rich organic matter

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Quick trip to the Crosby –  a brisk walk to photograph interpretive signs

If you haven’t yet visited Crosby Arboretum, stop in one day, winter time is as good as any. See the premiere native plant public garden of the region. Bring a sack lunch and a thermos and chill to the grass landscape. I captured over 80 signs digitally and didn’t get many. here’s a few.

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saw these at the edge of the path

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