everything’s not perfect but some things are – uncovering the threads at Covington’s Nature Park

A hearty group assembled yesterday for a volunteer work day at the Blue Swamp Creek Nature Park in Covington to collectively peel away another layer to expose a relict pine prairie. There were about twelve or fifteen of us altogether. Some worked for a few hours, some for more.

The objective was to cut and remove the tree layer that has grown up over time. The trees have been increasingly shading out the herb layer that is a cool remnant of ancient vegetation.

Back in late summer, we did our first prescribed fire there, as a first step toward restoring this valuable botanical area. Our goal is to develop the park as a natural interpretive park for the citizens of the City of Covington, St. Tammany Parish, and beyond.


above, Tommy Mayronne works the fire line at the Covington Nature Park on August 3, 2015. It was hot that day, ugh.

All of the parts and pieces to the prairie are there, they have just been taking a fifty year siesta, gone dormant, as the fires are absent, and the trees have grown up, shading out the precious sunlight which the herbs on the ground need in order to grow.

That’s what happens here on the Gulf Coastal rim. If you neglect your land, it will grow up in forest.

Nothing wrong with forest. In fact, I find forest interesting, but give me more prairie, thank you. We have lots of forest at the Park and need the prairie to fully explain our story of natural succession and natural history and fire here in southeastern Louisiana.

Spent time last week rescuing and then replanting Pitcher Plants for the Nature Park bog. Through that I learned how out-of-shape I am. Was sore for days after ha. But we gotter done!


step 1 – find a bog about to be mitigated (decimated)


step 2 – rescue bog plants (disclaimer: only dig from areas where you are sure are “rescuing”. The rescue site I dug from is adjacent to a giant Wal-Mart store, where ten acres of awesome bog was destroyed in order to build a giant parking lot and the store. Back in the 1990’s before the Wal-Mart was built, we organized volunteers to recue many many clumps of bog plants and planted them at the Crosby Arboretum-Picayune, Mississippi. Only imminently threatened sites should be considered for digging and only after all hope is lost in preserving the site).


step 3 – replant bog plants into a cool bog space at a local public park


above, on the right is where we’ve just removed trees. on the left is where we are still a-workin’ – notice the trees are toasty from the summer burn. Yes!! Also check out the central area in the photo. This area is managed by the local electric co-op – mowed occasionally to keep trees from growing into the power lines – as the grassiness there testifies – click to enlarge the photo and you can see the busy bees workin’

The tree removing task yesterday was grand, as we got about 75 per cent of the targeted area cleared. We will cut the rest of the trees this week so that our Covington High School Future Farmers of America group can remove them from the prairie garden site.


This is an “upland” area (with trees before we cut them out), created when the pond for the park was built, where we’ll plant awesome prairie seed this week, seed that I collected back in October at the Sandy Hollow Wildlife Management Area – with permission from the Louisiana Fish and Wildlife Service folks, of course.


Sandy Hollow is divine, above, September 18, 2015, Liatris squarosa/ Black Swallowtail


above – The northern-most area of the prairie-bog is generally here, where the electric service line for the Park comes through. You can see my friend – Landscape Architect Johnny Mayronne just past the trees…


above – this is the same photo but without the trees, an hour later – all cleaned up!


We made a giant “habitat windrow” to designate to the mower crew where there line is to stop with their prairie eating mowing machines. This will be a permanent interpretive structure for the park, designed to raise wildlife and questions. We’ll collect brush there and watch it turn to dust over time. Perfectly natural!


a progression of tree growth 2006 – 2015 via satellite imagery 

click to enlarge ’em

blue swamp 2 28 06

Covington Nature Park February 28 2006

blue swamp 3 22 10

March 22, 2010

blue swamp 3 5 13

March 5, 2013

blue swamp 10 31 14

October 3, 2014

blue swamp 8 25 15

August 25, 2015 just after our burn on August 3 – nice!

nature park

above  – take a closer gander at our far’ handiwork

Happy Day it was for my niece Megan and her new hubby Chris. Not every wedding party in New Orleans steps out of the Cathedral to a second line but this’n did. saweet.


Guys and gals – if you haven’t been, check out the Camellia Garden Stroll at the way-awesome old camellia garden at Hammond Research Station – Its the bomb – an amazing collection of plants all blooming their little asses off.

contact  Dr. Owings @ AOwings@agcenter.lsu.edu


meadowmaker’s farm


an out-of-the-ordinary Prairie Phlox was blooming at the farm yesterday – nyum-yumIMG_3490

nice grasses!


perty farm sculpture – steel, copper – Marc Pastorek/ Ricky Martin, 1996


prairie bling!!! Happy Birthday Candi!!



raking seed, breaking ground, getting down

Many groundbreaking events this past two weeks or so with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completing their planting work for the globally threatened Mississippi Gopher frog conservation-breeding ponds at Drakes Bayou Wildlife Management Area in Vancleave, Mississippi.  They used our flatwoods and bog seed mixes for south Mississippi. This fine vegetation should make for some frisky frogs.


the Corps’ seed check was in the mail!!! whootwhoot!


the frog pond planting at Drake’s Creek, all done. photo by Timothy A. Brooks

On a trip up to Union Parish to see a project site, dropped in and brought seed to Dr. Kevin McKone at Copiah-Lincoln Community College for their campus planting. Dr. McKone was a delight to work with throughout the last several months. He organized all of the prep work for the site since early summer and a group of students got the planting done on October 24th. This is a herbaceous pine understory planting that is part of a walking trail through the Co-Lin campus, as it’s known. The prairie project was inspired by Brady Dunaway, a student with a strong interest in biology. He found out about our seed-prairie work through the Crosby Arboretum, and the rest is history. Brady is a powerful dude, a force.


above, the pine prairie area at Copiah-Lincoln County Community College, Wesson, Mississippi, before planting


Brady Dunaway discusses the seed and planting process with his fellow student prairieists. photos by Kevin McKone


Getting the hay coverage just right


Team Green!!

Seed Collection Window Closes

I collected seed like a bandit over the last few weeks, working around our crazy rainy weather. So far I have been graced with a lot of luck and all the seed collections have been successful. We have some great seed for projects so get busy prepping your prairie site. Time’s a waistin’!

Got probably the last collections of the year in yesterday before the next-predicted four day rain comes, Monday through Thursday next week. ick.

long-awaited Sandy Hollow Wildlife Management Area seed collecting day!

Made major steps this week for the planting-to-be made at the City of Covington’s Blue Swamp Creek Nature Trail plantings. My good friend and partner-in-crime Jim McGee worked with me at the Sandy Hollow Wildlife Management Area near Wilmer, Louisiana, Tangipahoa Parish, on Thursday where we collected some amazingly wonderful seed from their way cool prairie land. We spent the whole day working under the supervision of Wade Fitzsimons, an agent with the WMA. He helped us stay out of trouble. We spent eight hours roaming around the woods. Jim navigated the machine and I walked all day ahead of him watching for Gopher Turtles and Gopher Turtle holes and keeping Jim from busting up our fancy machine on a stump or whatnot. I got a workout for sure. Eight hours is a lot of prairie tramping.


Jim McGee coasts along through the magical pinelands at Sandy Hollow, above


Aster concolor, one of the last things to bloom


Elliot’s Bluestem grass is very distinctive, unique, with it’s elongated inflated sheaths that wrap around the clusters of seed


cool, silvery white heads of Split-Beard Bluestem grass


Liatris squarosa in fruit.  Along with numerous other nectar-butterfly plants were collected Liatris spicata, L. squarosa, and L. squarrulosa in the fields of Sandy Hollow.


La FWS’s Wade Fitzsimons with the mother lode of Sandy Hollow seed.


above, the planting area at Blue Creek, where the seed will soon be planted.

It was a long time a’coming, getting into get seed from Sandy Hollow. I have been working access for over a year now, finally getting the go ahead from the La. Wildlife and Fisheries’ Steve Smith, who works in the Habitat Stewardship Section, overseeing research projects such as Blue Swamp Creek’s. They don’t just let you in the WM areas with a machine without a good reason and one that has to do with the non-commercial side of things. So Jim and I volunteered our day for the sake of establishing cool vegetation at Blue Swamp.

What a pleasure working in such a pristine place such as this is. Its an honor. And a duty. A thrill!!!

PH does Tallow eradication at the 25 year-old LSU Eunice Prairie, Eunice, Louisiana, St. Landry Parish


Dr. Maloclm F. Vidrine, co-initiator of the LSUE Cajun Prairie, gave me a tour prior to me doing the work there.


A prairie garden is a great addition to college campuses with all their acres mowed turf. click on the pic to see Mac way in the distance.


click on the photo to see the LSUE prairie strip


Take the campus of the M.D. Anderson Medical Center in Houston, for instance, with its native prairie landscape and butterfly gardens, one I had a very minor part in consulting on. It is a wondrously vast natural garden with real substance and structure; an island of biodiversity in an otherwise very stale and boring cityscape. click to enlarge the photos

BIOL-ENTM 4017 Class Flyer.001

Dr, Vidrine’s book, The Cajun Prairie: A Natural History to be used for this spring’s Bio-Ent 4017 Lab class held at Bluebonnet Swamp, Baton Rouge and at Chappapeela Park, Hammond, with Dr. Bill Platt. Dr. Vidrine may visit with the class this year to talk about his prairie work.