keep bugging me, man!

Habitat Conversion

Convert a patch of your lawn into prairie and find a world you would never discover otherwise; the plants, the patterns, the bugs!!!

Insects are not just beneficial, they’re essential! Bugs are good. Ask any Mother bird who is fluttering about in search of food for her chicks and she’ll tell ya. “chirp, bugs are good for my bebes! …..chirp chirp!”

“A single pair of breeding chickadees must find 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young”, according to Doug Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. Even though seeds and berries are nutritious winter staples, insects are best for feeding growing fledglings. Surprisingly, insects contain more protein than beef, and 96% of North American land birds feed their young with them. Although fly maggots and spiders might curl your lip, to a chickadee, these are life-saving morsels full of fat and protein.

If you’re not a fan of six legged organisms, you should curl up with Dr. Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home. It will reveal the complexity of nature through bugs. or just pull up any Doug Tallamy youtube video.

Then you’ll see!

Personal Outlook Conversion

What comes along with growing a prairie landscape besides flowery landscapes and bugs, is something you’ll find within yourself, a sense of satisfaction that goes far beyond what a garden can bring; a lesson in gratefulness and gratitude, a lifetime of beauty, joy and wonder.

Easily Demonstrating Pollinator Response

Wonderful things happen when you prairie garden. Plant Monarda punctata, Spotted Horsemint, and see a world of beauty and intrigue develop before you, from the tiniest seeds. Horsemint is a mid-succession to late succession species that comes up easily from seed (its a weed) in a prepared soil. It competes and proliferates over time. Kids! try this at home!


after a week of overcast rainy weather, the pollinators insects are out en masse, and very active, taking advantage of a first dry sunny day – this was planted in November 1998 – Pastorek Habitats-Meadowmakers’ seed farm – Carriere, Mississippi. What you can’t see clearly in the video, are many polllinator insects – working the Horsemint flowers for nectar. I walk right through the bees and wasps and they don’t bother me a bit – they’re too busy to notice. 🙂



Spotted Horse Mint is a highly aromatic plant with all parts having a pleasant citrusy scent.

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above, a tiny native bee dances the Watusi in the disc of a Compass Plant flower – at the farm – tell me where you’ve seen one of these bee’s lately?



Ville Platte’s Louisiana State Arboretum’s native prairie developing into a nice sod

The Louisiana State Arboretum prairie garden is near the arrival area, at the Park’s Visitor’s Center, adjacent to the parking lot.


planted in the winter of 2012 with seed provided by Pastorek Habitats, these gardens have developed into a decent representation of what an attractive prairie habitat can be. The seed was collected from the Cajun Prairie Restoration site and other relic prairie areas in southwest Louisiana.

prairie flower 001

Sabatia, Rose Gentian, above

green milkweed2

Green Milkweed


obviously not my hand, ha – Kim Hollier, Interpetive Ranger at the Arboretum, holds the flowering head of a member of the Carrot Family, a “hyper-pollinator” species, Eryngium yuccafolia, Button Snakeroot.

liatris 006

above Liatirs, Blazing Star, and a very happy Gulf Fritillary butterfly, foreground, with a Switch grass mass, in background.


Eastern Amberwing Dragonfly

(photos by Arboretum Interpretive Ranger Kim Hollier)



Narrow-leaf Mountain Mint – pollinator plant profile


Mt. Mint flowering clusters make a good landing pad for butterflies


Even though the flower clusters are tee-tiny and really need to be examined by using a hand lens to truly appreciate them, they can be quite showy in the landscape when in found in large numbers. Generally speaking, when you find this plant in the wild, it is usually a sign, an indicator, of high quality vegetation. Its a nearly carefree garden plant, with annual cutting back of spent stalks, the only chore needed to keep it looking at its best. In nature, fire does this. No insects that I have ever seen cause it any damage. They are probably too intoxicated by its sweet nectar to care about eating the plant.

Mountain Mints are highly aromatic. All parts of the plant have minty scented qualities and can be used to make tea and as a culinary spice.

I don’t remember ever having lost a plant in a garden and in fact it readily multiplies; it proliferates!

Plantings that I did in my seed field many years ago are now large masses that have spread and become the dominant feature in the landscape, moving out other exotic and early succession species.

A plant grown from seed becomes, over a three year period, a clump about a foot or so in diameter. The clumps increase in size over the years, becoming a dense ground cover, a green carpet an inch or two high in the cool of winter. When in bloom, at its peak, its stands about two feet tall.

Gardening with Narrow-leaf Mountain Mint is so simple – easier than tying your shoe. Propagate it by division by separating individual plants from the mature clumps. Take cuttings from vegetative growth just as the stems become rigid (June) and well before they begin to elongate and bud up to flower.

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium copy

above, Like many prairie species, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium, has an extensive range of distribution. You’ll find it in prairies relics in the eastern half of the country. (source, BONAP)


In Louisiana, its generally out of the river flood plain parishes, but just about everywhere else. (source Vascular Flora of Louisiana)


from Charles Allen’s Edible Plants of the Gulf South



City of Mandeville / La. Dept of Transportation “Wildflower Conservation Garden” (that apparently no one notices! ha!) Feeds the Insect Masses!


above, some schmuck standing next to one of the dozen or so Long Leaf Pine trees in the City of Mandeville prairie, a prairie garden grown from awesome local-gene, Pastorek Habitat seed. Nice Ragweed in the photo foreground – the yellow flowers are likely Coreopsis linifolia


saweet! Impressed, huh!




a nice patch of mature Bothriochloa, above


a stand of Florida Paspalum has arrived on the scene, above


…and the first Rough Leaf Goldenrod will bloom this year…yay!


some good sized polulations of Clustered Bushmint _Hyptis alata


and some Spotted Horsemint, too…


Little Bluestem grass, a conservative species, starts its late-summer reach to the sky, with flowering stalks (inflorescence) that will produce viable seed – the proliferating garden


above, the first Liatris to bloom so far in the Mandeville garden, shows its adolescent floral spikes. Not sure which species – didn’t look. but could be pycnostachya, spicata or acidota. These and many other perennial plants will start to mature enough to start colonizing within the Bluestem structure, coloring up the landscape over time.


above, 25 years of Liatris pycnostachya proliferation in Cajun Prairie Society restored prairie, Eunice, La., the result is a quite unusual and stunningly beautiful landscape, produced via seed. This garden has been the inspiration for my last twenty plus years of work. Dr. Charles M. Allen and his magical botanical creation, co-instigated by his friend and colleague Dr. Malcolm F. Vidrine, succeeded in their effort to establish a restored prairie in which to study prairie Ecology and restoration. Ten years ago there were just a smattering of the Liatris in this field, its only in the last several years that it has proliferated to this point. (September 2014) (click on photo to enlarge)



Liatris pycnostachya, remnant prairie, Cameron Parish, Louisiana


Laitris seed, magnified

The Southeastern U.S. pine landscapes are often called Long Leaf Pine-Bluestem plant communities because these two species were once the dominant species, generally speaking. Today it is not common to find either one of these in wild landscapes.

When I stopped in last week to see the Mandeville garden, the insect species were everywhere flying above, and nectaring on flowering plants. As I waded through the planting, grasshoppers, bees, skippers and moths darted away from me to a safer perch – and the sky was filled with hundreds and hundreds of Dragonflies.


the one + acre Mandeville Garden is at the corner of East Causeway Approach and Louisiana State Highway 190 – go check out all the critters, see it for yerself, ya’ll! its bad-ass.

Charles M. Allen Phd plant identification classes – see below link – these are excellent, intense classes in which to learn more about plant taxonomy

Sept 10-11 edible plant workshop – Allen Acres B and B

Sept 13-15 basic plant id workshop – Allen Acres

Sept 20-22 Wetlands Plant id workshop – Allen Acres

Sept 24 Pollination Celebration

Sept 24-25 Prairie Conference – Lafayette, La;jsessionid=35FA525E0215A325CCC9ECB3F93A6C0F.worker_registrant?llr=ejjbmvjab&oeidk=a07ecyp33k35061afd9

Sept 27-29 Graminoid (grass identification) workshop – Allen Acres

Sept 30-Oct 2 Butterfly Blast – Allen Acres

Oct 4-6 basic plant workshop (Poplarville, Ms)

Oct 8-10 basic plant workshop – Allen Acres

Oct 17-18 edible plant workshop – Allen Acres

Oct 25-27 basic plant id workshop – Allen Acres

Oct 29-30 edible plant workshop – Allen Acres

November 4-5 plant id workshop, Belle Chasse, La

Nov 6 edible plant workshop – half-day – Belle Chasse, La


for more info on these dates contact Dr. Charles Allen @








long week, long post


Made a trip to the big city last week to survey the Louisiana Children’s Museum site for Torpedo grass, a nasty invasive thug. I took a few photos to share while there. Above is the Hibiscus seedling grown from seed I gathered at Dr. Malcolm F. Vidrine’s Cajun Prairie Gardens in Eunice. Malcolm and his family have, over the last 18 years, developed a wonderful model for sustainability using natural prairie. Malcolm searched for many years, for the darkest form of Hibiscus mosheutos in prairie remnants. This one is actually a seedling a little lighter in color than some in Mac’s garden. I gave the seed to Gail Barton of Meridian Mississippi, who grew it off in plug trays for a year, then some went to Rick Webb, who grew them into 3 gallon pots and then they went off to market via Dana Brown Landscape Architects, who designed and with volunteers, planted the City Park wetland near Pelican greenhouse, where this plant and her buddies reside


While surveying, I smelled a wonderfully sweet fragrance which I followed enough to see it was coming from a blooming elderberry bush nearby. I had no idea that Elderberry was so delicious to smell. Oh, and perty. What a great wildlife and human food plant it is.


The native palm, Sabal minor var. louisianensis, on the LCM site, City Park. This is a subspecies of Sabal minor, the dwarf palmetto, endemic to the Mississippi flood plain, having a distinct, plated trunk. The trunk on this’n is about seven feet tall. You can see the old floral stalks rising above the foliage.


Naturalized Zepharanthes citrina, Yellow Zephyr Lily, in City Park, on the east side of Tad Gormley Stadium. When the weather is wet and the Park mowing staff is disrupted in their schedule, this field loads up with Zephyr lilies, by the thousands. Above, flower, and maturing seed head.




I caught Monty napping the other day while taking a respite from the heat. I sat there and watched a Red Headed Skink waltz up and proceed to bask in the sun with Monty for a while. It was pretty funny.


They rested there for a while, like they were best-buds.


Went for brunch in Mandeville last Sunday and dropped by so Candi could see the cover crop of annuals in flower. The Clasping Coneflowers were just getting cranked up. That’s me and my bald head creating the glare in the photograph. A cool storm was brewing in the distance. The cover crop is just temporary, holdiong soil until the perennials I planted come up.


This is where I spent a good bit of time Wednesday and Thursday, collecting seed by hand on one of the most beautiful, floriferous roadsides in the state. I won’t say where here but ask me personally and I will tell you. Gotta watch for poachers, ya know. on the left, the brown dangling seed heads of Beaked Sedge, Rhynchospora and on the right, the yellow flowers of Helinium vernale. In the middle is the green heads of the ditch-loving Carex pseudovegatus. nyum-yum.


Just down a mile or so is a mile-long strip of a Pale Coneflower in the powerline.


Pale Coneflower in Pink and Woodland Blanketflower, Gaillardia aestivalus, are worthy beauties.

check out the Red Cow Ant I found while shuffling for seed.


One of the targets Thursday was Baptisia bracteata

Prairie-marsh Ranch

Was invited Friday to meet at an “undisclosed location” to see a private ranch in Cameron Parish. This is right at the Sabine River, ya’ll, a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico. If I told you where this was, they’d have to kill me. Its a huge ranch, with approximately 900 acres of high quality Tallgrass prairie, somewhat degraded by the happy cattle that roam around eating prairie plants. Lucky dogs. My friend has set up permanent research plots to exclude the cattle and to experiment with removal of woody shrubs, which are both causing some disturbance to the herbaceous vegetation. He has introduced fire as well, igniting new spark of life to this awe inspiring landscape. Holy ground. Holy Cows!!!!


One area we saw was loaded up with super-sweet Texas Coneflower, Rudbeckia nitida var. Texana in peak bloom.  This for me is reminiscent of Nash Prairie in south Texas, but there are larger Mima mounds here than in Nash.



As you might imagine, the bees were a buzzin’ about the Coneflowers, as was this Moth That my friend Larry identified but I forget the name. click on the photo to enlarge it. a spectacular site, the Coneflower, but what you don’t see is really the special gift of seeing this site. numerous species of native grasses and wildflowers are there, too. They are just letting sister Coneflower have her day. Everybody gets a turn to shine.


You can make out a Mima mound (above) by the vegetation that exists on it. In this case you can see Sasafrass trees and Stylingia sylvaticum, which are not supposed to be here in the marsh edge, but have happily stowed away on the Mimas islands where the altitude is agreeable.


Along with the Mimas go the Prairie pot holes or marias. They’re large, flat depressions that hold water for most of the year and contain Pickerel Weed and the very groovy Eliocharis quadrangularis and a host of other marginal aquatics


Like I said, the Cows are some happy out here, scarfing down on Little Bluestem grass, Brownseed Paspalum and (above) Eastern Gamma grass. They take the leaves and leave the stems. Eastern Gamma, a relative of Corn, has a very high sugar content, and is highly palatable to livestock.


Looking southwest to the Gulf of Mexico, from a Ridge and Swale habitat, at the edge of what is a intermediate marsh fringe, (on the foreground plain) is Cyperus articulatus and Spartina patens meadow with all kinds of odd-ball plants mixed in. Look closely and you can see several miles in the distance from this slight ridge, the vegetation changing incrementally, the whole time, to a much more wet and saline condition.




The blue grey foliage of Hibiscus lasiocarpus is striking, not to mention the flars.


Larry, with the inflorescence of super-fine textured foliage of Spartina patens with a dragonfly mid-air centered in the image frame at about the level of hiss head. Notice black-burnt woody shrub skeletons.


Best part of the whole trip is working with my newly discovered Side Oats Gramma stand just south of Vinton, La., I stuck my machete in the ground to show the height of the Side Oats grass. This rare stand, adapted, so close to the Gulf, gives me hope that of one day it’ll be part of the urban landscape via the nevoux no-mow lawn grass for Louisiana and Gulf Coastal meadow plantings: a short grass prairie type thing. The plant is not found at all frequently in the state and nowhere I know, this close to the Gulf. And seed grown from places further north and west don’t tend to survive here. So local genes are the key. Last year I came to get seed off this stand and it had just been sprayed by the highway crew. This year, it is green and in seed so I harvested some seed and pilfered some plants in time to beat the spray rigs. I will divide the plants and build some stock to plant out at the seed farm. But the dug plants will go in quarantine for a year since it was growing near Chloris, a bad weed. When flowers come next year, I’ll know if a Chloris snuck through. The seed I am starting plugs with will be planted out next spring.


Gotta handful of Side Oats Gramma seed for propagation.


gotter done, dug some.


all watered down, the Side Oats plants covered up and ready for the ride east. gitty-up.


At home, I gathered up some old cups to pot up the Side Oats plants with.



The Side Oats, all done potting up into quart-sized containers, with a proper haircut.


This is the plug trays seeded with the Side Oats, yea. I wasn’t messin’ around. There were about fifteen seeds sown to each plug. Aught to have good germination this time of year

Mac’s Garden, a quick visit


Visiting Dr. Vidrine’s Cajun Prairie Gardens, Friday afternoon, with his Daughter-in-law Maureen and Grand-daughter, Odille. For fourteen years old, Odille really knew her plants. Maybe she’ll be a great Biologist-ecologist like her PawPaw.


A rather large Spiral Orchid, with a three year old clump of Red Milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, in the background.


Asclepias verticilata in full flower, in the Vidrine nursery.


above, as if on key, a Monarch showed up to visit with us while we were visiting the Asclepias, landing to nectar on the Whorled Milkweed flowers.


This is Dr. Vidrine’s first-year Milkweed nursery. Lots of new seedlings of five different species.


I should have taken my goofy hat off first. Me, Odille, and Maureen Vidrine at Cajun Prairie Gardens.


Doc Still teaches at the University of Louisiana at Eunice. He avidly collects and sells Milkweed seeds and he grows plants for sale in his front yard nursery, in his free time. Contact him about Milkweeds or one of his awesome books, The Cajun Prairie: A Natural HIstory and his latest Mites of Fresh Water Mollusks. These are his life’s work in print. He is working on his next book about prairie gardening with a fantastic title that I can’t reveal. It is in the works.

reach at Malcolm –