prairie ecology and management, topic for LMN Urban Ecology workshop, NOLA

I will be presenting the topic – “introduction to prairie ecology, prairie management and keystone plants of the prairie” for the Louisiana Master Naturalists of New Orleans’ URBAN ECOLOGY workshop on Saturday March 19th as a guest instructor. This workshop session is only open to those registered for the Master Naturalist program.

key take aways for the LMN presentation and field trip to Scout Island Prairie Habitat

1. Growing native prairie wildflowers and grasses gives a garden local identity.
2. Cultivating many prairie plots allows us to promote diversity and to preserve rare ecotypes that straddle the fence of extinction.
3. Prairie pants have historical and cultural significance and are a useful connection to the past.
4. Prairie grasses provide unique foliage texture. Their linear foliage refracts light and sings as the wind moves through.
5. Prairies are adorned with colorful flowers through the growing season.
6. Many prairie plants provide forage for wildlife. Birds feast on the plump fatty seeds of composites like Compass Plant. Butterflies abound in the prairie, sipping nectar  from their sun-loving food sources. Dragonflies hunt using strategic aerial feats to hone in on prey.
7. Most prairie plants are able to withstand extreme environmental conditions. Troublesome or unsightly areas of the landscape with baking sun and heavy clay soils are often ideal sites on which to establish a prairie garden. Prairie plantings can be used to reclaim wasteland in many cases.
8 Prairie plants (especially the grasses) have tenacious root systems that hold soil, filter ground water and prevent erosion.
9. Prairie plants are tough and resilient once established. Within 3 to 5 years after sowing, most micro-prairies are self-sustaining. Once established they will produce flowers and valuable seed for many years.
(Gail Barton, Meadowmakers catalog, 2007 – –
10. The restored prairie habitat serves as an outdoor classroom and as a “people pasture” (Madison, 1982)
11. There is a certain “revery” just being in a wildflower meadow, but the “revery” redoubles with the restoration of such a habitat. The gardener senses a deep feeling of “self-worth” that grows with each succeeding year as the gardener observes the plants and their biotic associates redevelop a sustainable habitat. (Vidrine and Borsari, 1998)


quote of the week

“no prairie – no monarchs”      March 1, 2016    –  some brilliant anonymous person


Monarchs on Eupatorium serotinum, Mandeville, Louisiana, September 2015. This is why you don’t want to weed out your Eup serotinum. Its a generalist but its a superb nectar plant, as most Eups are. Thanks John Broderick for the image. John sent me other photos of this planting which is right at the edge of a side walk downtown.

Pioneering Biologist, Malcolm F. Vidrine writes prairie blog – don’t blow it and miss this fellow’s writings!

His blog is at

Malcolm sent me this link, below, the other day regarding Monarch numbers-populations, etc.

Was encouraged, inspired by my friend Charles Allen to start participating in the Firefly watch, initiated by the Boston Museum of Science   I have a pretty good population of fireflies on the property here on the edge of Covington’s corp limit. Participate if’n you can! We need more southerners involved.

Feelin’ the burn…


stirring it up! ..with a drip torch! Momma told me don’t play with fire 🙂  Stacy Huskins workin’ the water bag – top-right


Walker Wilson selfie and me drip torchin’ the crescendo backing fire to slow down the head fire roaring at me – above


Heather Wilson, Dr. Allen, and Stacy Huskins after the burn.  Laddering effect on a juvenile pine….and a cool ephemeral Mayapple in flower – Thanks Walker Wilson, for permission to share these burn photos!


I’m pining for some Pine.


a hitchhiker Katydid on Chuck Allen’s shoulder, just after we finished his controlled burn. Katydid hang out with the cool folks….  🙂

Met with the famous team of Horticulturists Steve and Jake on my way to Vernon Parish Friday. Saw Jake’s new organic veggie plantings and his new tiller – not just any old tiller but a real deal farm tiller. Go Jake! Jake is honing his veggie cut flower skills and will be in production soon with his new leased farmland. Steve graduates this fall with a masters degree in grooviness. Pretty sure Steve is responsible for “weeding” the prairie garden at Hamilton Hall – U of La. @ Lafayette. Naw, couldn’t have been Steve. Oh, the mysteries of life….


Jake and Steve and I had shrimp poboys for lunch, bought and brought by none other than the Maestro himself, Professor Jim Foret. Prof. Jim had lunch with us and then it was off the the old Landfill, City of Lafayette, where in 1998 they, through the inspiration of Lafayette city employee Betty Vidrine, got help (and seed) from the Cajun Prairie Society for their Landfill prairie restoration. They have managed it, generally, with fire –  for these years and there were some good spots where it was obvious the grasses were pretty thick, photo below


We toured the prairie gardens back in 2001 or 2 during a Cajun Prairie Society field trip and it was just a whippersnapper then, in early stages of natural succession. Friday we consulted with Regulatory Compliance- Environmental Quality Officer- Jackie Tidwell. I will write a report on what we saw sometime soon; observations and advice, etc.


above, prairie on left and turf, right. notice the methane vent in the distance and the height of the landfill (house in the distance). This is the highest spot in Lafayette Parish.

lafayette 11 2005

google-earth prairie patches


Turn your City Landfill into a prairie habitat today! Makes for excellent use of space, rather than mowing, turns garbage into a wildlife habitat and party place! There’s gold in them-thar’ hills!!!!!!


cool Luna Moth at Dr. Allen’s. We just saw this one since it was so cool at night. He has eight or so white sheets that are lit with screw-based black lights but he just added a mercury vapor light and he says it really brings them in. He had eleven Lunas on his sheets yesterday, including many other moths. Can you say hero?

Latimore Smith visits, consults with Blue Swamp Creek Nature Park project, Covington

I met with Latimore Smith, John Mayronne, and City of Covington – Keep Covington Beautiful Director Priscilla Floca yesterday so Latimore could share his brilliance with us. Latimore is one of the leading ecologists in the state and works for the Nature Conservancy, guiding their huge land holdings through active natural management techniques. He shared some really great ideas which we will most definitely put into action. Thanks to the TNC and Latimore for his valued input!!!

We will gitter’ done!!!





native fun in the Louisiana sun

I could easily turn my yard into something resembling the country of Turfgrassistan if I wanted to. I could mow the whole darn thing in an hour and a half, giving it a nice haircut and be done with it. But if I did, how boring a stroll through my yard would be? How boring? Very.

I could fill the pond and drain the bog and grow the finest St Augustine turf in the land but I would miss-out on what I garden for.

I work hard on the gardens here to guide them, but I also keep them wild and wooly.


above, a tiny baby grasshopper rests on the large leaf of Greg Grant’s Coastal Hibiscus hybrid, “Peter Loos”, in the wet meadow part of the yard, near the pond edge.

Its real work, for sure, but any work you do in south Louisiana outdoors in the summer is real work. You gotta want it.

I love the process and the results; the fruits of my labor. And any work that makes a person sweat is good for that person’s soul. Its good for one’s mind, too.

I have lawn, but it is small strips I use as walkways and  I have a couple of very small areas of open space that is turf. I mow all of the lawn here on this two acres in fifteen minutes.

This week I enjoyed the Green Herron (maybe two?), who has returned again for its annual summer retreat here at lush digs of the Ponderosa’s wetlands. I don’t get to see the Herron much, but I’ve heard its Pterodactyl-like screeching in the last few weeks, high up in the Cypress trees that cover the pond. It keeps a low profile but makes a distinctive, very loud sound. I saw, some years ago, one (two?) build a nest and raise a clutch of chicks in the branch of a cypress. How lucky am I.

I missed photographing a pair of VERY happy Silver Spotted Skippers as they “courted” the other day. Probably best that I didn’t get that on film.

I found a really big Speckled King snake hanging out on a mud flat yesterday in the pond, near where the Short Bristle Beaked Sedge and the new Water Hickories, Virginia Willows and Black TiTis are. It was a beaut!

I watched it for a good while and estimate its length at at least four feet. So nice to see. In the last year, I’ve seen the biggest Texas King snake and the biggest Water Moccasin I’ve ever seen. Amazingly large snakes. Right here at the Ponderosa! And now the biggest Speckled King!

They didn’t come here for the turf, ya’ll. They came for the fine dining; the wild things.

here is my video of the King snake. Its rad.


The North Louisiana tour last week took me a rock’s throw away from the Arkansas line, visiting a planting done two years ago in Spearsville and one north of Dubach. All looked good there.

The trip was stellar since I was able to do my prairie prep-work at Kiroli Park in West Monroe, and took time to take a second look at Restoration Park. What great models these two Parks are for recreation and conservation in Louisiana. Kiroli is an old Boys Scouts Camp and Restoration is just that, a regenerated, restored, gravel pit.


acres of the native White Water Lily fill the eastern side of the aquatic areas at Restoration Park, part of the Parks system of West Monroe, Louisiana. Enlarge the photo by clicking, to see the observation building in the distance.


In the distance, a butter-yellow Ludwigia marsh floats out into open fresh-water.


an upland area walkway in Restoration Park.


White Oak at Restoration


Red Oak, Restoration Park


Possibly, Loblolly or Short Leaf Pine, Restoration Park, West Monroe, La.


an amazingly large Black Walnut tree at Kiroli Park, West Monroe, La.


the base of the trunk of the Walnut, Kiroli Park.

On the way back, I ducked in to the Copiah-Lincoln County Community College prairie garden to see on the status of prep work there. Coming along sweetly, it is. Go Wolfpack!!!!

The Fire Line clearing work at Blue Swamp Creek Nature Park has been started and is almost complete. Blue Swamp Creek is wetland area, basically, that is part of the Covinton Recreation complex, off of highway 190, north of town. Keep Covington Beautiful, an organization that gets things done, has partnered with the City of Covington to create a system of paths associated with a fire managed landscape. Landscape Architects Priscilla Floca and John Mayronne, and naturalist Charlotte Seidenberg and myself have incorporated about four acres of open landscape to restore and manage. It is now part of the existing Nature Park, which is a few acres in size just across the entrance drive. We will be initiating the first controlled burn soon, when the fire line work is complete and when the weather changes to a drier condition.


We”ll rake a twenty foot swath through the cleared perimeter area




a low flat area near the pond at Blue Swamp Creek Nature Trail is carpeted with what looks to be Juncus difusissimus, Rush. We’ll probably convert this area into a Pitcher Plant bog, over a long period of time. The hydrology seems perfectly suited for that plant community.


above, some old holes, under the powerline that crosses the new area, hold water and have associated with them, special plants.

The Result of the fire at Chappapeela Park, Hammond is obvious. We got a good burn. I spent Saturday all day, cleaning it up but removing some of the crispy Loblolly pines that were charred. And drove re-bar steel pins in the 30 one-meter-plots there. Got to see what our summer burn looks like a week later.


above, no fire


day of fire, after burn


above, fire + 5 days


Established plots permanently, for the Dr. Platt’s LSU Conservation Biology Lab 4017.


the meter square plots were in various conditions of toastiness


some were semi-toasty


Some, super-toasty


thats a hot far, thar. 🙂


above, regenerating seedlings after five days

Got to visit the farm briefly this week and enjoyed the acres of Monarda in bloom. ahhhhh…nice!


Monarda lindhiemerii, Lindhiemer’s Bee Balm, at the seed farm in Carriere, Mississippi.


Its quite a sight to see, folks, acres of Bee Balm; not a typical sight in these-here parts. 🙂 yum, yum! These are fifteen year old plantings that are divine to behold.

Blue Hawaii Elvis makes the debut (scene) at the Ponderosa- surfs on Dwarf Cajun Prairie brand of Switch grass!


Its just me bragging on my Dwarf Switch I got many years ago from the Cajun Prairie Restoration project in Eunice. Its a two-foot-tall-foliaged plant with inflorescence, making it three feet tall altogether. I will be dividing a good portion of this up to grow in pots in the nursery to share with growers to hopefully make it mainstream one day. Who wants some? This one and the Brooksville Blue Switch grass (a Gail Barton selection) are great local genetic garden plants for south central Gulf Coast region (surfing Blue Hawaii Elvis used here for scale only-its “life-size”). The Brooksville Blue is one Gail found near Elvis’ hometown of Tupelo (in Brooksville, Mississippi).

cool video trailer

Finally, I had the coolest meeting Friday with Vince Sortman and Ed Morgereth from Biohabitats, Inc. We met to discuss drainage, grading and wetland creation at the New Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans City Park. We’re working as consultants to the designer, Mithun. It was a great day with a fabulous meal at Mandina’s, then on to Waggonner and Ball Architects to meet with Rami Diaz, who wrote the visionary plan for water in the New Orleans area. cool stuff! whoot whoot!!





While there I got to see my Red Milkweeds budded up at the Harrison Avenue prairie restoration. Saweet, ya’ll.