Mac Vidrine speaks/ and 6 thoughts on I-55 for MS and LA DOT

See below, an hour long presentation by one of my major mentors, Dr. Malcolm F. Vidrine, biologist-naturalist-prairie ecologist. You will enjoy this if you are a friend of the soil. Its a How and Why on Butterfly gardening and Monarching in Louisiana…..   Malcolm practices his Black Belt form on camera!

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click on the above pic,  and see Asclepias viridis at the Bogue Chitto, Mississippi exit on Interstate-55, looking north at 7:30 a.m.

State highway mowing-management in Louisiana and Mississippi needs advice from the perspective of an ecologist or three

I did some 70 mph botanizing, on my trip for work to West Monroe, La. Monday. I made a few stops to photograph and to do some brief on-the-ground botanizing as well. On the way back, I rode the part of Interstate 55, from Brookhaven, Ms. to Hammond, La for the second time that day. There was some stark differences in the landscape, between the Loosiana side and the Mississip side of I-55.

I made a few observations.

1. Why does the State mow this early along the highways?

The Mississip side of the state line, from above Brookhaven to McComb, was just filthy with Green Milkweed. There were thousands and thousands of plants, some of the most beautiful stands I have seen in a single day’s time; mile after mile of it. The Louisiana end, from Hammond to MacComb had been mowed about a month before. It was mostly void of flowering plants; thirty miles of Milkweeds swimming in species richness vs. thirty miles of no Milkweeds and almost flowering plants.

The Louisiana end looked like a golf course rough, and if you blurred your vision, it looked like a golf course fairway, a really slick lawn. The Mississip side was chocked full of flowering splendor. There were painterly sweeping strokes of the bright golden yellow of Coreopsis lanceolata, the Lance Leaf Corepsis, Coreopsis tomentosa, The Hairy Coreopsis, the clear-white of Erigeron Philidelphicus, the Showy Daisy Fleabane. There were possibly hundreds of millions of tiny purpley Verbena rigida and tenuisecta flowers, and most definitely hundreds of millions of umbel-buds of Sinecio tomentosus, Wooly Golden Ragwort, one of the prized and cherished, most beautiful of the perennial wildflowers in our fair state, especially in those numbers, the populations are phenomenal.

Crossing from the Loosiana border across to the Mississip border, I felt like Dorothy stepping into Land of Oz.

The mowing in late March of the Louisiana side brought the vegetation down to six inches, which triggered a vegetative reaction (new growth). It also exposed the soil to direct sunlight, which heated up the soil early-on, which totally shut down the groovy vegetation and spurred the growth of things that will come much later, on the Mississip side.

The sad part is its just a matter of a week or so before the mowers hit I-55 Interstate systems. They’ve just been held up by our persistent rains. I saw them working in full force on I-20.

2. the argument for mowing the highways (and I have heard it from the horse’s mouth), is that it is a safety concern/hazard because of the height of the vegetation. Right now, the only species that is at all tall is an occasional Thistle, maybe one or ten thistles every ten acres. Does a thistle every now and then constitute an entire mowing of ten thousand acres? Probly not.

I agree with the idea of mowing in late May or June, but right now, the vegetation where it hasn’t been mowed is only about six inches higher that where it has been mowed. I say bully bully. I say wait until the Milkweeds are done fruiting before mowing commences. This will likely benefit the Milkweeds, no?

3. The DOT needs an ecologist muscleman on staff or as a consultant, to guide their management strategies. DOT is the largest manager of land in the state and should be run as such, with an ecological approach hammered into the program.

The reason there is not an ecological approach to highway management is that the DOT would have to change their activity schedule and reduce mowing. They’d have to give up spraying their unwise herbicide use and if they didn’t mow, they’d hear it from Senator such-and-such and all the other mow-happy folks in the state via telephone or email. I am told DOT people get a lot of flack from folks when they don’t mow so its a quandary.

I am all about safety and federal guidelines on the Interstate highway system but these folks are seriously misguided and have very big guns (budgets). They know that if they reduce their management, they’ll loose money and all state departments always want more money.

4. Reduce herbicides in the landscape

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above, When they spray over the railings on steep slopes, they are causing dead vegetation and excouraging soil erosion. This costs money to fix.

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Miles and miles of herbicide sprayed along the Mississippi (Milkweed) side of the border. It is simply bad planning, in my opinion to install the protective rails so close to the highway edge. This makes for an unsafe environment for highway workers and a difficult zone to manage, so close to the highway. It should be placed in the middle of the median. Bad form on design, MDOT. And the herbicides just kill perennial grasses and forbs and encourage weedy, tall annuals. Any horticulturist knows that. You’re making the vegetation more weedy by spraying.

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above, the beauty of Verbena rigida and Senecio tomentosus, near McComb, Mississippi. click on the photos to enlarge ’em.

5. Engineers know engineering, Landscape Architects know landscape architecture, but do either know that this is a beautiful natural garden that does not need mowing this early in the growing season?

Apparently not.

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above, the very beautiful but highly invasive Cogon grass, on I-59, south of Picayune, April 22, 2015. The seed of Cogon grass is maturing and about to float away on its journey to find bare soil to connect with. Spraying now is easy for crews to do since it is now that it is so highly visible. Ideally it should be sprayed just before seed heads mature to this point (four or five days ago, every year).

6. Cogon grass, our worst invasive plant, a horrible offender, a grass that is moving more rapidly across Louisiana now, as it did in Mississippi, since the mid-1990’s, will be impacting the economy of the Louisiana (as it has in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi). The state has a resonsibility to be vigilent in its efforts to contain it on their rights of way. They are the stewards of our roadways and they should be focusing on Cogon when it is just about to fruit, right now; spraying the dickens out of it. After all, this is the only time a crew of sprayers can identify and shoot at it to kill. Our roadways are the corridors that the fluffy travel-for-miles-seeds of Cogon grass moves. Put the crews out spraying Cogon instead of mowing our lovely wildflower gardens. Get productive, DOT!

I think I’ve said enough.

totally artificial, but perfectly natural!

I did a short presentation for Dr. William Platt and his LSU Conservation Biology Lab class yesterday on prairie landscaping. After I was done, we discussed the work I do and how the students could build their experiments around the previous class’ data collecting and research results at Chappapeela Park in Hammond. Dr Platt thinks highly of the vegetation there. He said that my work with prairie is “totally artificial, but perfectly-natural”. I thought that was a awesome. So true, Doc!

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K-9 Conservation Biology Lab Teaching Assistant Kimber makes her rounds while Dr. Platt’s discusses experimental possibilities with his wiz-kid students.

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take me to your leader! cool rendering of the new sculptures going into Lafitte Greenway, NOLA in November

I attended the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week Water Challenge function Monday to see if our design would be the chosen one, but we were won-out by the really cool, spinning, night-lighted, sound-generating scuptures concieved by artist Michel Varisco’s “Turning”. We were sad to lose but this was honestly, a good choice. Its beautiful, kenetic modernistic artsy stuff. The sculpture’s going to be the first art installation installed along the Greenway. Maybe more to come from what I hear! Thanks to Jen Blanchard for inviting me be on the team of designers who collaborated to conceive and produce a great finished design proposal. see the winner Ms. Varisco in the articles below. Next competition, Jen!!!

http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2015/03/water_challenge_entrepreneur_w.html

http://nolavie.com/variscos-turning-wins-first-living-with-water-arts-pitch-10847/

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above, a borrowed drone photo from Facebook of the play fields/ native grass areas, one of many along the Lafitte Greenway. In all, about ten acres of native grass, prairie, and wetland sedge-meadow gardens will be established. The meadows are the major features besides the trees and turfgrass in the landscape design. Meadows will  help capture stormwater runoff from the Park site. We designers had a timely meeting this week finalizing the details of the Greenway planting plan. We’re now three and a half years of design work with another two and a half or three years of establishment and management left to finish. It will be a unique Park for New Orleans, for sure.

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At North Broad Street and Lafitte Greenway. Doing last minute detail study before the big meeting. Saweet!!!! The wetland-retention ponds are constructed and most of the final grading is done. Ribbon cutting ceremony in June or July, ya’ll.

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above, a photo taken by Dawn Allen McMillian in April last year at the Cajun Prairie Society’s meeting. This year, along with prairie restoration and garden tours, we are presenting the first “native prairie seed auction”, a fund-raiser event planned for the business/ lunch part of the meeting.

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Dr Charles M Allen in 2012, while planting the third “grid garden” at Duralde Restoration site. The second was done just across the road from this one in 1998 or 99 or so. The first, earlier than that. We disked this area for two years before we planted, in November 2012. I collected the seed. Charles and I designed it, and a wonderfully spry group of volunteers planted it.

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Jackie Duncan, Greg Trahan, Sara Simmonds, Margaret Frey, and Linda Chance, laying out the grid

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October 2014 mowed paths, the crop-circle look. The south side of the road has been burned this past winter so it should be glorious wildflower viewing for all who attend.

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Charles’ description of the design.

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Charles’ recently produced prairie map for Louisiana. Cool, huh? It is to be published in the new Handbook for Prairie Restoration in the Southeast, By Jovonn Hill, et al, Mississippi State University, due out this summer.

I got to see the amazing Dr. Sara Mack of Tierra Resources speak at the Water Challenge event. What a treat that was to hear about her work with Wetland and marsh restoration and water-minded collaborations in Louisiana. She is a force. She’s a Louisiana hero.

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Dr. Sara Mack, Entrepreneur Week Water Challenge past-winner and speaker at Water Challenge 2015

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Second meeting in a week with the BREC, the Baton Rouge Recreation and Parks folks. They run an amazing model for urban Park management. Everyone should see their management guidelines. They are to reach a goal of reduced mowing over time, going to a more sustainable model. This is the Bluebonnet Swamp meadow area we discussed Tuesday. Last week I was with horticulturist Brett Autenberry at the Baton Rouge Zoo.

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Bluebonnet Swamp is delightfully sublime.

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Cypress knees

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Lizard’s Tail covers the marginal bottom of the swamp preserved by BREC at Bluebonnet.

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I am proud to be working with such a game-changing group of folks such as BREC!!! I’ll be meeting with the new Conservation Specialist on staff at the BREC Conservation Department, Matthew Herron on the idea of doing a meadow planting at Independence Park in Baton Rouge in the next couple of weeks.

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above, “the falls”  at Clark Creek.

If you haven’t ever been to Clark Creek Natural Area in the Woodville, Mississippi area, try to go. There’s a filed trip hosted by some great botanists and naturalists with the Capitol Area Native Plant Society.  they say……..”Also…this area is quite rugged (for our part of the world haha), so if doing some up and down walking is not your thing, this hike isn’t for you. Make sure to bring some water and a little bug spray (for possible ticks and chiggers), and there is a small ($5 or less) fee for vehicle access. If you’d like to meet us there, the address is 366 Fort Adams Pond Rd., Woodville, MS”  fun starts at 8:45 9:00 tomorrow

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adios amigos!

 

 

Eunice prairie demonstration gardens tour, April 4

The Cajun Prairie folks will hold their spring wildflower tour on April 4th, celebrating the prairie, lead by the two pioneering biologists who started the Eunice Prairie Restoration garden nearly twenty eight years ago. In my opinion, this is one of the top 3 public garden destinations in the state of Louisiana. Society members burned the site for the first time in two years this February and we had an intense fire as a result. It is always a beautiful site to see the prairies during the first week of April, at peak spring bloom; not much created by man in these parts compares. Imagine ten acres of the most beautiful garden you can conceive of and thats pretty much what you’ll see at Eunice in April. Remember Dorothy and friends in The Wizard of Oz walking through the poppy fields? Well, its much better than that. Heavenly, hallowed ground it is.

From this site, this planting, much of the research on seeded prairie landscaping in the Gulf South has been garnered. Many scientific papers have been produced via this single experiment. And many prairies have been produced with seed from it. This is a preserve managed for the conservation of Louisiana Tall grass prairie genetic ecotypes. (click on photos to enlarge, photos by Dawn Allen McMillian and myself)

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sensitive briar, Mimosa quadravalvis

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Phlox pilosa color variations

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awesome rare wild onion, Allium mobilense

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blue eyed grass

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Cardinal on a burnt twig

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there are tens of thousands of Baptisia in the ten acre Eunice Restored Prairie, many of them unique, rare, natural hybrids

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Praying Mantis

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white false indigo, Baptisia alba

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Baptisia bracteata

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Gulf Fritillaries on passiflora vine

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The tour will begin at the Duralde restored prairie, a 350 acre prairie collaboration between the the Cajun Prairie Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lacassine NWR. There you can see lots of acreage of natural coastal Tallgrass prairie seeded in 1995-6 and transplanted with rescue plants over many years from the now extinct Frey prairie remnant, just south of Eunice by the Society and other volunteers. There you can walk through seeded experiments and demonstration gardens planted as a research project in 1998. There’s also the two-acre demonstration garden designed by Dr. Charles Allen and myself, which will is unique to the southeastern U.S., an individual prairie species garden with 10 x 12 feet rectangular plots for all of the conservative species of the prairie to be managed in a mowed- grid form. This area was burned this year, first time in a few.

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The 2-acre Duralde demo garden, November 2015. At two years old, its just a pup.

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Dr. Charles M. Allen, biologist, horticulturist, Sept 2014

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Dr. Malcolm F Vidrine, left, biologist, horticulturist, April 2014

Program for Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society

Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society Spring Meeting and Tours-Saturday, April 4, 2015

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. and

Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society meeting.

And the presentation

“Bring Back the Monarchs” by the Bug Lady, Linda Auld of New Orleans

 

For more details about the meeting and or tours, contact Dr. Charles Allen 337-328-2252 or email native@camtel.net.

 

 

 

2 St. Tammany residential pine prairie gardens burned- go team Green!

Saturday began with a cool breeze, clear blue skies and by the 10:00 burn time, we had a steady 10 mile per hour wind with gusts to 15mph coming out of the east and southeast. We planned to burn a 2.5 acre planting, seeded a year ago in January. My client Doug Green did all the work involved in prepping and planting. I just provided seed and guidance. Now we’d do the first controlled burn on it, to trigger natural succession.

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above: here’s a photo of the field after a few diskings (plowings), November 19, 2013. Walking trails and a circular central open space inside the plantings, in green. (click to enlarge)

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above: with the wind kicking from the east and southeast, we started on the western side, close to the north corner. My burn partner Terry Johnson did the honor of lighting it up. Terry, fire manager for the Crosby Arboretum, and I have been burning together for about 15 years.

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after about ten minutes, we were reassured of the strategy and proceeded north (Terry) and south (me) to encircle the filed with our only real tool: fire. Doug helped us out in a big way by running the tractor-spray-rig where and when we needed him.

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as we moved eastwardly, we left a “black line”, a burned area; protection from escaping fire. Once the size of the black line was sufficient, we moved on steadily to the east.

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Terry worked the north edge and I worked the south. this is about 45 minutes into the burn, maybe half way done. We worked a black line on the north and south ends, again, for protection from escape.

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I met Terry on the east side and we wrapped it all up like a large lasso. A full two hours of steady adrenaline pumping was had by all.

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eryngium yuccafolia, a hyper-pollinator species, in the ash, one year after seeding

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Doug went back and forth between Terry and myself, assisting as needed. Team Green got ‘er done.

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central part of the prairie, before….

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…and after.

We did another burn, Terry and I, just a few miles away; a small, half acre pine prairie seeded two years ago- with some wooded areas included.

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above: before…

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…..and after. The prairie area surrounds this tree-shrub area, but I wanted to introduce succession by fire here, as well. My client, Skip Miller, will be happy with the result come this summer.

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Our burn plan for Doug’s pine prairie, certifiz’ed and notoriz’ed. CAUTION! DISLAIMER: Fire is extremely dangerous! Momma told me so! 🙂

horticulture-worthy strains of native grasses for Gulf-influenced landscapes

One of the best things to happen to me in my working career is to have been influenced by a bunch of keen plant people who appreciated and promoted genetic diversity. This influence has helped me see the plants in the landscape with a more discerning eye.

By having the gift of spending time in natural areas, I’ve come across some noteworthy strains of plants that I believe have horticultural promise. Some are genetically unique individuals like you and I and some are entire populations of a single species in a particular location, noticeably different than the typical. Some are just normal, run-of-the-mill.

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Pioneering prairie ecologist Dr. Charles Allen and myself at Chapapeela Sports Park last Sunday in Hammond, Louisiana, checking out for the first time, the lushness of frosted-awesome prairie seeded two years ago in November. Without Charles and his side-kick Dr. Mac Vidrine (and other concerned Biologists), this, and other fabulous prairie gardens around the Gulf Coast region could not have been conceived. photo by Jeff McMillian

Here are a few Central Gulf Coastal plains species and strains worth mentioning:

Switch grass– Switch grass is highly variable in the landscape. Often, when you see lots of it, you’ll see short and tall, upright and rounded, narrow-leafed and wide bladed, blue-leaved and green-leaved. You’ll see variations in color and texture in inflorescence (flower), too. I have a nice dwarf one in my garden that grows about three feet tall in fruit. cule. the old timey selection, Heavy Metal, has been a commonly available cultivar (genetic anomaly) in the hort trade since the mid-1990’s. Northwind, a selection from up above the Mason-Dixon, is an upright and tall form that stays at attention, like a soldier. Cloud Nine is another I’ve grown for many years, getting my first plant from Niche Gardens in the late 1990’s. Its a big sucker, nine ft tall (Get it?) about that wide, too. Dallas Blue I’ve had for several years now and its of course its blue foliaged and decent in that it doesn’t flop and kind of rounded in form and medium texture. A decent plant. I think the perfect Switch for gardens is a fat-fat leaved one about three feet tall and wide, but I haven’t come across it yet. Gail Barton of Meridian Mississippi found a killer selection of Switch on Highway 45 south of Brooksville, Mississippi a few years ago. It is a beautiful grass, a beautiful plant. Its steely blue foliage with a large form about five feet, in inflorescence and a nice fine textured effect when in fruit. The cool thing about Switch grass is you can do large areas from seed really easily. We offer a mix of Switch seed from populations in the Cajun Tallgrass Prairie of Southwest Louisiana. In two years time, you can produce acres of Switch in robust, nearly mature stands.

Little Bluestem grass is said to be (or used to be) the most common sun-loving grass in in uplands(out of the wet) in East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. It is a high-conservative species, worthy more ornamental use. Northern climate American are and have been selecting for this plant for many years and because of that, people are using them and making economic benefits in horticulture and commerce. We down here in the South are contemplating the matter still. This is an vertically inclined plant plant, its prolific and the beauty of it is more obvious in numbers. You wouldn’t plant a single Bluestem plant in a garden. You’d plant twenty or forty at a time, for effect. There’s strength in numbers, you know. You use Little Bluestem en masse as a element in the landscape. I prairie ecology, little Bluestem is a climax species, providing copies amounts of plants that proliferate in the landscape and when managed well, become a sod. Foliage and stem characteristics are where Little Blue got its name; Blue stems with red nodes and sometimes, the blue color is absent and shades of green dominate a stand. Sometimes the blue color is so intense it looks silver colored. In November, after first frost, Little Blue turns Little Red, and late in winter turns Little Tan. The functional value though is where Little Blue captures its niche. It provides ecological services abound. An interesting note is that Little Bluestem, below I-10 in the Cajun Prairie is associated with facultative wetland species. Normally it is considered a non’-wet loving plant but obviously genetics have adapted to wet ecotones.

Broomsedge/ Virginia Bluestem – since Little Bluestem has been so devastated, Broomsedge (not a sedge at all) is now probably the most common sun-loving upland grass in Louisiana. Its an early succession plant, moved out (in a restoration) by late succession species, Little Blue, typically. However, Broomsedge has some relevance as far as landscaping and horticulture is concerned. It can be managed in perpetuity if done with some skill. It has a most colorful presence in the landscape in the winter; an unusual reddish tan colored foliage, different than Little Blue, and of a slightly different texture. Its easily distinguished by its flattened stem nodes.

Split Beard Bluestem –Split Beard is very similar in habit and form to Little Blue until it blooms and fruits. When in fruit, the trained eye can pick it out of a line-up from a couple of hundred feet way. On I-20, if you happen to catch it in fruit before the mowers come, it creates a cottony, visually-dazzling landscape, whipped by the wind of the semi trucks. The fruit persists for a month or two. A cool, cool plant for horticulture and wildlife.

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above: Split Beard Bluestem in fruit and in the field. click on photo to enlarge

Dwarf Elliots Bluestem -Elliot’s Blue is rarely, if ever, dwarf, but there is a stand of a dwarf strain that I have been closely monitoring for two seasons, now, at a restoration in Louisiana that has horticultural promise for the Gulf coastal plain since most of our Bluestem species get really tall, especially in a garden soil with no root-space competition. An interesting thing is that when you see either Split Beard or Elliot’s, you generally see the other in close proximity. Elliot’s Blue has a similar habit to Little Blue until it blooms and fruits. Its really obvious when the fruit is on board. Fruits are wrapped in an elongated three inch sheath, something quasi-similar to a jack-in-the-pulpit arrangement. A very distinctive identifiable trait. No Bluestems look like it. The dwarf strain is obviously different than typical, and everything else around it is of normal height and form. This is obviously a strain that comes true from seed, hence the size of the stand (presently about 30 x 50 feet).

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above: Elliot’s Bluestem in fruit, and the dwarf stand, about two feet tall.

Dwarf Indian grass -Indian grass is a great prairie garden plant. It is a runner of sorts, but politely so. Again, like with most native grasses planted in a garden situation with loose soil and no root competition, the height and width can double or more, compared to the normal competitive-prairie size. In the competitive world of the prairie, Indian is polite and docile, and only grows a tuft of grass about a foot or so high, with nearly invisible floral stems to six feet, topped with highly attractive and colorful infloresnces. Yellow Indian grass is the common name for this plant since the flower heads are bright and yellowy, robust and unusually large considering the stem diameter. Indian is highly variable genetically with a variety of genetic strains coming from a handful of seed. Often there are steely blue colorations of foliage and differing leaf forms and sizes.

Dr. Susan Barton, U of Delaware (http://canr.udel.edu/faculty/barton-susan/) has made some wonderful discoveries conduction planting experiments with Indian grass. She told me about how she preps the planting area by spraying herbicide repeatedly and then mixes Indian grass seed with saw dust. Then lays the sawdust-seed mix across the ground an inch thick and voila! Instant Indian grass prairie!!!!!

Dwarf Indian in my seed field -years ago, a friend, Gail Baron (yard flower.com), gave me a few cups of Indian grass with origin, as I recall, from somewhere in Mississippi. I planted it out and it has proven to be a particularly dwarf strain. Nice.

Love grass (there are many species) – Love grass should be a good marketable plant just because of its name. It is a very short-statured grass, much wider than its one foot height. Work should be done on this plant simply because it has such a short overall height. And it comes up readily from seed.

Three Awn grass -Aristidas are feathery, fine textured and rather attractive native grasses that create puffs of color and texture in the landscape. Some come up readily from seed. These are relative to the Wire grass, Aristida strict, so common and dominant in Florida and Georgia pine lands but absent from west Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Generally dwarf in size, most often, about a foot high, wispy and vertical; moved by the slightest breeze. Purty. The best one for horticulture is A. purpurascens.

Narrow Leaf Bluestem – a most promising garden plant and lawn substitute, Schizachyrium tenerum has a short and rounded form with needly-thin leaves, growing about a foot high and 30 inches wide. Its distribution range is a fairly small area, the central  Gulf coast, mainly, with some disjunct populations, east, in eastern Georgia and North Carolina and west to Corpus Christi, Texas. Narrow Leaf Blue is unique in that it is one of the species in the Coastal Prairie of Louisiana (Cajun Prairie) that separates the Tall grass prairie of the midwest from the Tallgrass prairies of the Gulf Coast region. It has something to do with the Gulf influenced coastal pine lands intergrading with the Tallgrass prairie. Its a true Southerner.

Schizachyrium tenerum

above: Distribution range of Schiz ten

Pineland Dropseed, Sporobolus junceus -what a beautiful and very useful grass this plant is! A favorite of mine. It graced my prairie seed catalogue cover years ago. Prairie Dropseed casts a wide net horticulturally for the potential it has for use in gardens, home and urban prairie landscapes and especially for the no-mow or low-mow native lawn. This plant is so petite, a tiny thing, that gets about six or eight inches in height and maybe a little less wide. The inflorescences are erect barely visible, they’re so thin and fine in texture. Very interesting. Its a clumping tuft with fine textured foliage and is delightful to find en masse in the wild. Am presently working on plantings of it for demonstrations for the last couple of years.

Brownseed Paspalum -Brownseed is a great early succession nurse crop for strarting a prairie garden since it comes on early in dominance and stays until competition moves it out to a lesser roll in the prairie landscape. A good wildlife plant but not much on the eyes. Most folks would say it looks like Bahia grass but it is quite different, actually. Much thinner inflorescences and fruit clusters. Its another Gulf coastal species mostly, with reach into northern area outside the coastal plain. Adaptable from Texas to the Carolinas.

Side Oats Gramma (or Side Oats Grammaw grass)– Boutaloua curtipendula isn’t supposed to be in Louisiana but Botanist Chris Reid showed me a killer naturally occurring stand last year in Cameron Parish, a stone’s throw from the Gulf. He and another expert told me that that is an anomaly and that that stand is probably something that came from seed sowed for forage. I dunno. However, its growing like a weed in the Louisiana coastal Parish of Cameron! That’s big news folks. Big potential there in that genetic strain. I went to collect some seed and or plants last year and it had just been nuked by the Highway dept. or county road crews. Bummer, dude. This species (and for us, this strain) has incredible potential for low-mow, no-mow lawns and is a great garden plant. The closest place to find it naturally near us, other than in Cameron Parish stand is in the Black Belt prairie region where it is not common at all, rare. These Black Belt genetics have potential for trial also, in heavier, higher Ph soils like New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Eastern Gamma –is a big, big plant. Its a large textured, pale green leaved, rounded plant with flower spikes that radiate outwardly and above the foliage in all directions, from the center. An ancient relative of the corn plant, if you suck on the seed a bit, you’ll see it even tastes like corn. Voted a better plant for bio-fuel than Switch because of its higher sugar content, its also an ornamental plant of note. It can be grown easily from seed but is not as fast as say, Switch grass. But in three years time, you can easily grow several acres by seed and save tons of plant costs while creating large swaths of grassy landscape. Super good fire generator and an excellent wildlife food and cover plant. Also, ook into the use of its far-southern first cousin Florida Gamma grass, rare in the wild but common now via conservation, on highways and shopping mall parking lots in south Florida, Miami area. Cool beans. I have a nice stand of about fifty maturing plants in my home garden here in Covington, trying it out. It seems to be tough as its cousin for me so far.

Go! Micro-Prairies!!!!!

 

 

planting milkweed seed for Monarch butterflies, now’s the time :)

Somebody asked me once why I don’t use milkweeds in my projects. The answer is, I do. But they need special attention. They have special requirements. At least in my experience, Milkweed plants aren’t easy to produce and can be hard to keep, in the landscape.

First you have to get the seed. That’s tough enough. Many species of Milkweed show up in the landscape without any rhyme or reason. They are the rebels of the grassland. Doing cuttings is an option in the spring, before bloom, but you have to have a mister system or at least time on your hands to do that. Finding seed takes a little experience and a lot of luck. You have to know where plants are, and you have to arrive just in time to harvest the seed or it will float away with the wind. I recently saw a method of wrapping a bag around the pod to capture all parts when pod ripening and opening occurred. That’s a pretty smart idea. Duh, why didn’t I think of that.

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Pineland Milkweed, Asclepias obovata

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a pod of Green Milkweed, Asclepias viridis, with a single seed and silk (at left). The traveling mechanism of the seed is very much like a Badminton birdie. This is a pod that I picked from a cattle field in the Black Belt prairie area of Alabama. Cows can’t eat the Milkweeds so they are occasionally abundant under hoof. A cow field I go to near Livingston, Alabama has hundreds and hundreds of plants each year.

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Once you get the seed, in order to plant it, you gotta clean the silk fluff from the seed. Malcolm Vidrine showed me a way thats pretty easy if you have the pod in tact and seed not fully open. Remove silk and seed arrangement. Grip silk tightly and rake the seed from it. Gail Barton told me about using fire, which is much more fun than just stripping the seed with your hand. this youtube video, below, is last week’s frying pan fire, when I was planting my milk weed.

After cleaning them, put them in cold for stratification. Its time to do that right now, mid-February. Look at Dr. Charles “Paw Paw” Allen and Mac “Milkweed-Man” Vidrine do their thing in this past-issue of The Cajun Prairie Habitat newsletter. Its a couple of great articles written the masters themselves, last year.

http://www.cajunprairie.org/newsletters/201403.pdf

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seed can be stratified in paper towel or damp sand. I played out paper towel, put seed on it and wet it. Then folded it into a square and drip-dried in the sink.

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wetness….

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drippin’ and dryin’, into a plastic bad it went on February 8, to the fridge, till March 20th or so, when I’ll sow them in tiny pots. Into the garden they’ll go after that. 🙂

please read the following article (below) on Monarchs just produced by Dr Allen.   Hasta luego, suckers!

Monarchs, Milkweeds, Migrations, Mexico, Midwest, Malcolm’s Method, and Misconceptions

By Dr. Charles Allen with lots of info stolen from Dr. Malcolm Vidrine

 

The monarch butterfly is one of the most, if not the most, intriguing animal with its migration pattern and host plant requirements.  Many Monarchs migrate annually from the United State to Mexico and back but unlike birds and other migratory animals, the migrating butterfly is not the original butterfly but the offspring.  The monarchs overwinter in the mountains of central Mexico and when the weather warms in the spring, the monarchs begin to fly northward toward Louisiana and other southern states.  Upon arriving in south Louisiana, the female monarchs seek out milkweeds on which to lay her eggs.  The eggs hatch into caterpillars and the caterpillars eat milkweed leaves and turn into a chrysalis and then an adult monarch emerges from the chrysalis.  These adult monarchs then migrate farther northward and spend the summer in the central or northern US or southern Canada.  Several broods (3 or 4, depending on the weather) of monarchs are usually produced during the summer and these monarch live 3 to 5 weeks.  But the offspring from the last brood begins to migrate southward and should end up in central Mexico.  The last brood is different in that it lives much longer than the summer broods, up to nine months.  These will overwinter in central Mexico and then migrate northward in the spring.    And, there are groups of monarchs that do not migrate but overwinter in the south (Florida west to Louisiana and Texas).  There is also a group of monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains that overwinter in southern California and northern Mexico and migrate northward to southern Canada and back to southern California.

Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweeds or closely related species in the milkweed family and the caterpillars only eat leaves of these plants. For a listing, description, and pictures of Louisiana milkweeds, goto http://www.cajunprairie.org/newsletters/201403.pdf.   Monarch caterpillars are very host specific that is they have to have milkweeds or the close relatives to eat.  Note that adult monarch butterflies can drink nectar from a wide variety of flowers and are not host specific like the caterpillars.

There are two distinct areas for monarchs in Louisiana, the coastal area from about Interstate 10 or US 190 southward to the coast and the inland area that part of Louisiana north of Interstate 10 or US 190 (see map). The blue area on the map is the coastal and the white (non-colored) area of Louisiana is the inland area.  For the inland area, the monarchs are typically present during two time periods, spring-March to April and fall-September and October, both during migration periods.

The map shows that the coastal portion of Louisiana is an area where monarchs practice winter breeding but in talking to people who live in the coastal monarch area, the monarch reproduce year round there.  In other words, the coastal area is an area of summer breeding for monarchs as well as winter breeding. Note that the map does not indicate summer breeding in the coastal areas.  I think that the coastal area of Louisiana is a milder area in the summer than the inland areas thus it is feasible for monarch to reproduce there during the summer.  The milder climate makes the area more similar to the northern US and Canada, and especially the Midwest US and thus monarchs can and do reproduce.  I remember visiting Grand Isle in the coastal monarch area one June and was surprised to see white sweet clover (Melilotus alba) to be very common.  This same plant can be seen in the inland area in February to late April but has succumbed to the heat by June.  I remember seeing this same plant very commonly in Iowa and Wisconsin prairies in July.  And, I have seen lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) on Grand Isle fairly common in April to June but have not seen it or see it very rarely in the inland area.  Lamb’s quarters is another plant that is more common in the central and northern United States.  These two observations on plants on Grand Isle makes me think that there is a milder climate on Grand Isle during the summer and allows monarch to reproduce there.

Map taken from Article on tropical milkweed showing migration and reproduction.

 

 

Wrapup Points:

  1. We need to make the researchers aware of the fact that the monarchs in the Louisiana coastal area reproduce year round (summer and winter) and not just winter as their map and text indicate.
  2. With the study of monarch DNA and tagging, it would be interesting to see if the monarchs in the coastal area are (1) the offspring from same ones from year to year or (2) composed of two groups (new migrating monarchs that stop migrating plus the overwintering populations that have survived) or in fact, (3) is there a new population of monarchs there each year from migrating monarchs?.
  3. We (coastal and inland Louisiana people) need to be sure to have plenty of succulent milkweeds ready in March and April when the migrating monarchs return from Mexico.  I say use tropical milkweed mixed with native milkweeds this year (2015).  And let us see if we can get enough native milkweed ready at that time.  It seems to be a tough job to get the native milkweeds growing and with large enough leaves by March every year.  The only one that I have been able to do is the swamp or aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis).  Perhaps the green milkweed may also be ready at that time.  I don’t see it much in my area but remember it being a common milkweed in the Cajun Prairie region of Louisiana but can’t remember what it looked like in March.  Most of the other native milkweeds are just thinking about growing in March and would not provide much food to migrating monarchs. Within walking distance of my house, I have three native milkweeds: (1). clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicalis) in the very sandy areas; (2) white milkweed (Asclepias variegata) in the shade of hardwood forests; and (3) swamp or aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis) growing in wet areas along the Ouiska Chitto Creek.  The only one that seems to be in good shape in the spring is perennis but it was in an open area where I had moved it from the shade of the Ouiska Chitto.  Perhaps, other people may have additional native milkweeds to suggest for the spring migrating northward monarchs.  Then, if we can get enough native milkweeds ready for March, we can phase out the tropical milkweeds for the spring.  I would hate to get rid of all tropical milkweeds this spring and the monarchs arrive to no milkweeds what so ever.  Talked to Malcolm Vidrine (see below) and he says he has monarchs laying eggs on the very small emerging milkweeds in the spring and they prefer natives over the tropical and their favorite native is the tuberosa

I am still leery of Asclepias incarnata and Asclepias syriaca; these may be northern US species that are cultivated in Louisiana.  If tropical milkweed stops south migration and these two are northern species, perhaps those milkweeds would stop northern migration of monarchs??

  1. For the fall migration, the monarchs are supposed to migrate without reproducing but I see them every fall reproducing and have seen them reproducing on native milkweeds.  In fact, fall is when I see, by far, the most monarchs.  The spring migration often passes with me only seeing one or two monarchs but I typically see 20-30 or more in the fall.  The native milkweeds are past their prime at that time with older leaves that are not very conducive to monarch egg laying.  I plan to try to prune my native milkweeds back in August with the hope that the plants will regrow and have young succulent leaves for the fall monarchs.

 

MALCOM’S METHOD

For Malcolm’s complete article with pictures, goto http://www.cajunprairie.org/newsletters/201403.pdf.

Dr. Malcolm Vidrine of Eunice has been working with native milkweeds for several years now and has this to report:

  1. Collect seeds from locations near the final growing site. For years I collected and/or bought seeds of a variety of milkweeds, especially Butterflyweed, from numerous places in Louisiana and other states—these grew and bloomed (or not) as annuals only to die in the moist winter soils of the Cajun Prairie.

The Cajun Prairie Butterflyweed that I grow was found just south of Eunice in a woodland meadow along a railroad right-of-way—they and their offspring have grown in my gardens for up to 17 years.

  1. Remove the seeds from the follicles when the follicles split with a little pressure from your fingers.  Grasp the silk and pull the seed from their silks. Seeds should have a viable embryo—a nut-like palpable swelling.  Note from Charles Allen here: Gail Barton last week at the LNPS meeting suggested using fire to get rid of the silk on the seeds.  I have used that method and it works by simply placing a lit match near the silk and it poofs up in flame as Gail suggested and the silk is gone.
  2. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place until February.
  3. In February, place the seeds into CMS (cold moist storage). This simply requires placing the seeds in

a Ziploc-like bag with a small amount of damp sand for 6 weeks in the refrigerator. Do not do this to the nonnative Mexican milkweed (A. curassavica)—the CMS is lethal in my experience—plant these seeds directly.

  1. In March-April, add water to Ziploc-like bag, and the viable seed should float to the surface. Remove the seeds into a growing chamber—I use plastic containers that come with a lid. The seeds are spread out on the surface of potting soil—almost any kind works—and a light covering of soil is used to simply hide the seed. Keep the chamber closed and moist. I place the chamber in a south-facing window.
  2. Seeds germinate in a week—really germinate—hundreds of them. Allow them to grow out a second pair of leaves—usually 2 weeks.
  3. Move the seedlings outside and transplant them into large containers—5 gallon containers for 1-2 years. I prefer 2 years in order to allow the roots to grow really large (several inches long) and easy to handle.
  4. In winter or early spring, either transplant the entire container into the ground or remove the roots and transplant them separately into the final growing site. The roots can be divided in the spring into 2 inch segments, and placed in individual containers providing even more plants. These cuttings can

also be planted into the final growing site with approximately 50% success. As a final propagation note, all species can be grown from stem cuttings (taken after Monarchs are done eating), but the success rate is highly variable, and the process requires more intensive work.

 

General notes:

 Butterflyweed (tubberosa)—it is essential to grow plants from near your location, and it takes years to get a specimen plant; thus plant 3 in a triangle about a foot apart. The plants reach 3 feet in height and have red to orange flowers.  Red milkweed or Few-flowered milkweed—while this plant likes damp soils, it readily conforms to good soil, but it cannot tolerate drought. I have lost hundreds of these from planting them in poor, dry sites or to severe droughts. The plants grow 4-5 feet in height and have yellow to red flowers.

Green antelopehorn (viridis) —this plant can be grown in your lawn as it actually appears to appreciate being mowed by machines and/or Monarchs. It is very easy to grow compared to the previous 2 species. The plants grow to 2 feet high and have green flowers.

 Shore milkweed or Swamp milkweed (perennis)—this plant can tolerate container growth for years, unlike the 3 previous species. It prefers damp soils and cannot tolerate drought. It stays green almost all winter, and it is a superb host for Monarchs as it is green both in early spring and in late autumn. It is the easiest to grow, and the most prolific bloomer. Seeds lack silk. The plants grow to 2 feet high and have pink or white flowers.

 Whorled milkweed (verticillata)—this plant is easy to grow and transplant. It prefers damp soils and can tolerate drought better than the red milkweed. The plants grow to 3-5 feet and have green to white flowers.

 

All of these are used by our migratory Monarchs. Each has different growth habits and requirements for good flowering. Butterflyweed and Whorled milkweeds appear to be long-lived (more than 10 years),

while the other 3 species appear shorterlived (usually more than 5 but less than 10 years).

 

 

You should have my email native@camtel.net and Dr. Malcolm Vidrine’s is malcolmvidrine@yahoo.com

 

 

 

Monty the Dog Goes to the Farm!/ awesome new LSU Hilltop meadow planting-planning/ City of Mandeville-La DOT pine prairie planting completed/LSU Hilltop Arbo Symposium speakers finalized, announced

 

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Monty the Wonderdog, captured in digital form, on his way to the seed farm in Mississippi the other day. Monty likes fetching sticks and smelling-out deer and other wild critters in the native grass fields. Most of all, though, he likes to stick his head out of the window to get a sense of the neighborhoods along the route. That’s what he’s best at, plus the fact that he’s a certified therapy dog and all. He’s not an amateur dog, he’s a professional! He was pleased with the day overall, he said.   (click on the pic and see him up close. He’s funny.)

I just got the notice for details for speakers for the Hilltop Arboretum’s winter Symposium and what a great line-up it is. I will, of course, be speaking on grass landscapes (duh) for the home garden and the urban environment. The symposium is geared to gardens and garden plants rather than ecological landscapes. It sounds like it will be a fun time with a speaker’s get-together the night before, so I’ll be able to catch up with a few folks I haven’t seen in many years and some I’ve never met. here is the link to the Hilltop Symposium announcement. There’ll be more info coming soon, I’m sure.

http://sites01.lsu.edu/wp/hilltop/adult-programs/symposium/

Yesterday, Doug Reed was in Baton Rouge to discuss the new prairie natural area being designed for the Hilltop Arboretum. Doug is an nationally recognized landscape designer, an LSU grad, principal partner in the firm Reed-Hilderbrand, LLC, of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Doug and I collaborated 3 years ago on the initial design phase of the Hilltop prairie when it was just an idea and we worked together on the super-sleek Repentance Park project in Baton Rouge shortly after that. I hear that I will likely be involved in the final horticultural details and if I get lucky, provide the seed for the actual plantings once the construction of the prairie meadows begin. I was invited to be present at Doug’s presentation to the Hilltop board of directors but am too busy with planting right now to pick my head up. Gotta make hay while the sun shines. Peggy Davis, the Director at Hilltop, organized a field trip to Crosby Arboretum and to my seed farm last summer to get a hands-on feel for what a real restored prairie is. A bus load of people connected to Hilltop visited and walked the Meadowmakers prairie paths. They must have liked what they saw since the project to create real biodiversity via constructed natural areas of meadows is still on! whoot!

Once completed, this planting will provide an outdoor classroom and research area for landscape design and biology students right in the heart of Baton Rouge.

The City of Mandeville’s wildflower conservation planting has been completed as of last Friday. I met with the very capable Herb Piller, a landscape designer with Louisiana Department of Transportation that day. He was interested in the planting process and took a few photos, asked a few questions.

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above, top: the western most planting in Mandeville at the intersection of Highway 190 and Causeway Approach Rd, and below that, the eastern most planting. All complete and ready for seed to stratify! I will be managing these gardens for two years as part of the installation contract. Really nice Long Leaf pines from Louisiana Growers! go Rick!

The burn team got together and did some controlled burning at the seed farm in Mississippi yesterday. It was perfect conditions for a wild fire and thanks to our dedicated volunteers, we got two major sections done without burning the neighborhood down. These were two areas, about four acres altogether, with two years of fuel built-up and the humidity was really high with lots of grass present so we had some really spectacular visuals and adrenaline rushes from the leaping, flaming vegetation. Lots of poppin’ and crackin’ in the low, wet areas between the hill slopes. It was quite the event, ya’ll (don’t try this at home kids)!

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above: My good friend Jim McGee uses the awesome-Terry-Johnson-devised/ Terry Johnson-built, Kabota-mounted, PTO-powered spray rig, to douse the flames as they work into the fire lines at the Meadowmakers seed farm and genetic preserve, Carriere, Mississippi, December 10, 2014. Terry is a old-time good friend, who grew up on a farm in Iowa. He is a farm-taught mechanical engineer who can build and fix anything. He and Jim both have a heart of gold.

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a good burn was had by all, ya’ll 🙂

Mandeville’s new 1 acre Long Leaf Pine prairie preserve

Thanks to the forward thinkers at Mandeville City Hall and the Mandeville City Planning staff, the one acre island created (two islands, actually) by the roadway intersection at Highway 190 and the east Lake Ponchartrain Causeway approach will soon be completed. The planting is inspired by the Long Leaf pine prairies that were once so prevalent in the Parish and the entire Central Gulf Coastal region. Tim Bailey, a local landscape contractor and Prairie Dog, Inc. (Pastorek Habitats, LLC.), have been chosen to collaborate on the planting and management of the project. The planting is just east of the Causeway approach, check out the google maps to locate. You may have to click and enlarge the photos below, to see.

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I’ve worked this past spring and summer, getting the prep work done and Tim has just completed the tree plantings; a few Live Oaks located in the outside of the pine prairie and Long Leaf Pine and Cherry Bark Oaks, chosen specifically because they would be a natural companion for the prairie and because they are pyrogenic (they love fire!). The plan is to use annual controlled burns as the preserve’s main management device.

Adam Perkins, a Landscape Architect based in Hammond (Dufreche and Perkins), and Maggie Gleason, Landscape-Urban Forestry Inspector for the City of Mandeville’s Planning Department collaborated on the planning and design of the landscape. Adam, Tim and I all worked together at Chapapeela Park prairie landscape in Hammond, which is a jewel in the crown of Hammond’s public Park system. Adam’s graphics are great. They explain the project very well.

Gotta give credit to Chuck Allen and Mac Vidrine, those crazy-brilliant-Cajun-Prairie-cats, because without the help of the how-to science they developed, the preserve would probably have become a large tree filled lawn that would have to be mowed in perpetuity, or something really boring like that. By approaching the “approach” this way, we get awesome wildflower diversity and eventually, fire on the ground!!! We also get another model of what can be done in the urban context with ecological landscaping; totally logical.

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bird’s eye view looking north (click on the photos to enlarge)

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looking southeast, lighter green is pine prairie, darker green is mowed turf grass

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looking south, with City of Mandeville City Administrative complex on right in white

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Signs identify the pine prairie area as “wildflower preserve”, a series of posts delineate the prairie from mowed turf for maintenance staff when they are mowing and to create a neat strip of highly managed vegetation that will contrast beautifully with the wildness of the blanket of prairie. Caroline Dorman, Louisiana’s pioneering promoter of “the wild things” would be proud!

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This is a big deal for Mandeville, ya’ll. And for us, too! . And for Pine prairie!!! We will be planting the first week of December and I hear that the local Louisiana DOT representative and some other City leaders want to be present at some point when we are seeding to see what we do and how we do it. There seems to be a lot of interest in this project. The City Leaders seem invested in more ways than one. Will keep you (all three of you) posted on progress, as it happens.

three good books on Long Leaf Pine and Pine prairies

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/892456.Looking_for_Longleaf

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13790960-longleaf-far-as-the-eye-can-see

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15809827-forgotten-grasslands-of-the-south

converting a 15 year old Chinese Privet, Japanese Honeysuckle and Sweet Gum forest into a magical flowery prairie lawn

Well, from what I hear, everybody wants to know how to change from a mega-shrub-scrub patch to a high quality natural grassland-wildflower area. Okay, well not everybody wants to know but there are a few of you out there in left field who do.

First thing to know is that it aint easy-peazy.

The project can be a little easier if you’re changing from herb vegetation to herb vegetation, rather than from forested, woody vegetation to herb vegetation. Trees can be much more difficult to deal with than herbage, so the labor requirements can be more intensive, more laborious. Hauling off trees is tuff stuff.

But that didn’t stop me.

I’m like, up to the challenge. I’m Prairie Dog, after all. Defender of the Prairie.

I planted Long Leaf pines on much of my new twelve-acre property that I bought back in 1997. The intent was to plant scattered pines with a ground cover of fine fuels, or pine prairie. I wanted to create a beautiful landscape. There’s one area, about 80 feet by 80 feet that I never got a chance to plant. I figured I’d get to it later. The pines have grown to be awesome and giant. Seeing them brings back memories of pleasant days when my two boys were still boys, helping Pop plant little pine seedling plugs. Joel was 13 and Cale was ten.

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above: Some of the pines are now twenty and twenty five feet tall and I am now finding an occasional seedling in the “grass” stage, generated from the Momma trees.

So on this 80 by 80 piece of land, I started two years ago, working on killing Chinese Privet, Japanese Honeysuckle, and Gum and salvaging the Pines. I began the process of changing the landscape from overrun scrub to pine prairie.

I got out the big guns on the big Gums. Say that really fast ten times.

My buddy and neighbor Terry Johnson, a great guy who grew up on a farm in Iowa and can engineer anything, helped me re-rig my old tree sprayer. He and I worked to change the power plant on the rig from running via two-cycle lawn mower-type engine to being powered via the PTO on my tractor. I got a new PTO pump and we changed it out and built a new platform out of treated lumber to mount the rig onto. We built it so all of this hooked up to the tractor via a three point hitch. I then had a 150 gallon water tank sparyer, ready to go. I would use it for controlled burns and for spraying herbicide. I was now armed and dangerous.

Last summer (2013), I experimented by spraying Round-up on the Privet, Gum and Wax Myrtle. I was careful not to hit the Pines.

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above: last winter, I burned and seeded the area with a Low-Mow seed mixture dominant in low-growing native grasses; Narrow Leaf Bluestem, Pine Land Dropseed, with a tab bit of Elliot’s Bluestem and Split Beard Bluestem. As soon as I finished burning, I sowed the awesome collection of seed.

My friend, Jim McGee, and I cut the trees and scrub off of one area about fifty by thirty feet and planted a sweet mix of No-Mow native lawn there. Most of the stumps regenerated this summer, growing about a foot or so tall. I sprayed 2-4-d and Remedy (trichlopyr) on these regenerated stumps and on the not-fully killed Privet, Gum and Waxes this past summer. This herbicide mix kills everything but the grasses. I killed a lot of plants that day. It left a bunch of standing scrub carcasses baking in the sun like old bones in the desert.

Yesterday, I got busy cutting a new 35 by 30 foot square out of the dead, standing carcasses so I could plant another section of my new Wonderland No-Mow lawn seed mix (for details on this mix, see our blog home page section titled “About Our Local Eco-Type Seed”). I started about 10:00 in the morning and cut and I whacked and I cut and whacked again and by 1:00, I had finished whacking. There was leaf litter on the ground surface so I raked it up to expose bare soil. I got that done and was ready for seed. Folks, it takes two full years of patience, of killing, to get to a point where you are seeding when you’re dealing with beasts like these.

Whoo-hoo! Its a happy day when its done!

I got the area seeded and then stabilized the seed with wheat hay so that the seed wouldn’t go bye-bye in the next rain (its planted on a nice sloped hillside). This hay cover also makes for a more moist condition for seed germination than bare, exposed seed and soil does. Careful: too much hay, not good.

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This is what the biomass looked like before I got a’cuttin’. click on the photos and enlarge to see ’em better. Look at the pines for scale/reference.

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Got the biomass cut and gone, I left the Yaupons because they are nice.

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I raked all of the leaf cover from the ground to expose soil, hauled it off, and then seeded just by dispersing seed onto the ground.

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All done with seeding, I mulched sufficiently to stabilize seed on the slope.

It should be easy going from here. Presto!! Change-o!!! I pull a rabbit from my prairie dog hat!!!!

Come see the progress of this and other cool experiments, old and new, at the annual May field trip at the Farm next year. There aint nuthin’ like it.

Get busy and build a pine prairie No-Mow lawn, folks!! Time’s a’waistin’.

 

Mulberry Meyhem, the last deathly gasp of Frey Prairie, LSU Poster interview, Advocate news article and a crazy-cool pine prairie planting in Pineville

Its been an amazing week in the life of yours truly. I keep pinchiing myself thinking its a crazy dream… Its been a month and a half of nonstop seed collecting. Since October 1, its rained maybe twice on two days and I have been taking advantage of the dry. We have been able to manage gathering from some really wonderful prairie sites this year. We are extremely grateful for this.

Also, I am grateful that my friend, colleague, mentor, fellow prairie dude, Dr. Charles Allen, who had heart surgery Thursday, has made a progressively positive recovery so far. I talked to him today for the first time since, and he seemed totally himself. First thing he asked was “how’d it go at the Mulberry Mayhem?”. The general always worries about the battle. Go Charles!!!! His daughter Tanya wrote a note and said that when he arrived at the hospital ready for surgery, the Dr. asked him “what brought you here today, Dr. Allen” and he spouted back, “the car”. That’s the Charles Allen I know.

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above, Dr. Charles M. Allen points out Drosera intermedia at the Crosby, Hillside Bog field trip, Crosby Arboretum satellite property, Harrison County, Mississippi, in April 2013

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God breathes life into Adam, Sistine Chapel

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See you out on the prairie soon, Doc. And put some clothes on.

Cajun Prairie Society troops manned their battle stations yesterday and caused some mayhem amongst the White Mulberry trees at the Cajun Prairie Society’s Northwest property on East Bacciochi Avenue. The really cool thing about this is that all who showed, totally abhor herbicides and all that they stand for, but because they all love prairie so much, they donned their gear and stepped off the abyss.

Where the mulberry infestation is so particularly troublesome is on this two acre property (its a mitigation bank property) that is managed by the Cajun Prairie Society. We have attempted to restore it to some degree in the past but never really addressed it fully. The first time was sometime around 1999 when we just did some plugging of prairie sod rescued from the Frey prairie remnant, south of Eunice. Giant Ragweed kind of took the place over while we weren’t looking, we got distracted. Charles had fully gotten the Tallows out using Clearcast, but Oaks and Mullberries and Chinese Privet and a few other species of trees and vines have had a field day there. We started over from scratch a couple of years ago by cutting and removing everything off the property. Trees twenty feet tall, everything was cut and removed from the property. Our mistake was we didn’t spray for a year after. We seeded and its been like a 200 pound gorilla on my back ever since. Although there are prairie species throughout, scattered. The Society believes we can turn that sucker around, though. Charles has a good working strategy. We have been up against the ropes getting pummeled for the last year, when we started slugging our way out of it with a good spray in summer, some experimental Tordon herbicide apllications in the prime window, this September, and then Saturday, hitting them with a solid one-two punch. Those mulberries don’t have a chance, dude. They are going down one way or another. Those fellows fought and scratched their way through the nasty vegetation and dosed the trees with the dreaded Tordon (a real nasty thing). We used it because we had tried just about everything else. We treated some in September and seems to have done some good. We tried three different approaches: cutting the basal stem with a machete and then spraying the cuts, spraying without a cut, and cutting the trees down at the ground and treating the stump. We had obvious kill. Thanks Andrew Dolan, (private lands coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service) for the sage advice about the Tordon). It took some bold souls to do the job. They got ‘er done. I was in charge, taking the place of Dr Allen while he is in hospital so I did absolutely nuthin’ but point my finger 🙂 Jackie, Margaret and CC worked on the Eunice restoration site.

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above, the guys ready for the White Mulberry throw-down,  Stacy Huskins, Brian Early, Steve Nevett and Jacob Delehoussey.

Last Saturday, an article written by Stephanie Bruno, a reporter from the New Orleans Morning Advocate, was printed, promoting my talk at the New Orleans Botanical Garden for the Green Council Inspire Speaker. The article was great, I thought. Short and sweet. Stepahanie got it mostly all right. And the talk went okay, I hope. Only had two sleepers out of twenty five (just kidding). I noticed when I was talking about natural succession and fire, everybody was smiling. When I talked about herbicides, everybody frowned. I do another talk, pretty much on the same subject on December 13th and I will incorporate more to do with home gardens. The Green Build Council talk was more for landscape architects. this is the link to the article if you haven’t seen it yet. Thanks, Stephanie!

http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/features/10767427-171/incorporate-native-plants-grasses-and

I planted, with a lot of help, a prairie landscape in Pineville, Louisiana, Tuesday. I worked with the client through Tony Tradewell, a landscape architect who works out of Alexandria.

I arrived in the morning and Tony helped, along with two fellows who work with the homeowner regularly. It was great because we got it all done, 4 and a half acres, in a few hours, seeding it all by hand. The homeowner used his tractor to sow a bunch of annual color, like we used Clasping Leaf Coneflower and American Bachelor Button and a bunch of other stuff, over what we seeded, along with a combination of Rye grass and cereal rye to help stabilize the soil since it was a steep slope and well tilled soil, yikes.

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The Hunt Prairie

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above, Prairiedog, June Bug, and Cookie, all finished with the cool planting at the Hunt residence

I made two back-to-back trips to Eunice for seed collecting this week and loaded up on some amazingly rich seed collections. I processed and stored most of it and have some left yet to store. I will be offering the mix from the Restoration site as an exclusive Cajun Prairie Restoration site seed mix and a portion of the money that comes from these seed sales goes to the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society. This seed mix has its origin from all of the remnant prairies that Drs. Allen and Vidrine discovered and transferred genetics from in the late 1980’s, to the Eunice property.

This summer and fall we have put some amazingly diverse and varied seed mixes together along with some individual species collections. Check into this on the blog under “About our Seed”. My machine (the dinosaur) is teaching me new tricks on how to get stuff I never knew I could. Been experiment’n.

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above, our seed storage room, nice, chillin’ and getting full.

I left Eunice super early this morning and got home before the rain got here, so I safely made the trip without getting the seed wet. Wet seed, not good. Yay!

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above, Brian’s photo of me in the zen zone, drying awesome Cajun prairie seed at the Eunice Parking lot. When you rake the seed, it smells of the honey-sweetness of licorice goldenrod, Solidago odora. yum-num

I met Thursday with Jiaze Wang, a student who is working on her doctoral studies at LSU under Dr. Eugene Turner. Dr. Turner teaches a restoration course at LSU (Oceanography and Coastal Sciences). Jiaze and I met at the Chapapeela Park in Hammond, where an awesome prairie is kicking, like Bruce Lee.

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Chapapeela is doing this! its something to see, folks. Its wild.

Jiaze and a student friend of hers and I walked the prairie, she photographed, asked questions, and then we went out of the cold at the Park administration building where she and her friend recorded an indoors interview which will be posted on line at some point, as I understand it. She will make a poster about Chapapeela, about our work with building the prairie gardens there and elsewhere, I think. And they may post the interview on line. As Popeye would say, ‘How embarrasking”.

Lastly, as soon as I got home this morning, I headed to the farm to see some of my old friends planted there. I mainly wanted to see my Frey prairie planting. Since last week, I am mourning the sad and sudden death of Frey Prairie remnant. This amazing, hallowed and sacred ground was discovered by Dr Allen and Dr Vidrine back in the early days of prairie Louisiana prairie research. It was thrilling to walk through. Frey Prairie remnant was a small fraction of what was the once-vast Plaquemine Prairie, which was a small part of what was the Great Southwest Prairie of Louisiana; 2.5 million acres of Gulf Coastal Tall grass prairie, located in the southwestern section of La. Frey was clearly one of the last great gem remnants in the state and one of the most floriferous, diverse pieces of ground in the South, one of the most heavenly places on planet Earth. As far as I know, My planting at the farm, about an acre, is the only remaining genetics that have been established using exclusively Frey prairie genes. The Eunice prairie is a mix, Dr. Vidrines Cajun Gardens is a mix, of prairie remnants they fould. I collected seed at Frey on one day in October 2001 and planted the seed in this one acre plot in November. It is a genetic representation of Frey prairie. Today it is a wonderfully diverse and gardenesque planting that gives me great pleasure and total, absolute enjoyment. I was so stunned, when a week ago, I went to Frey to visit and saw that it had been turned in to a rice field edge. Turned upside down and made a rice levee. What an awful crime scene it was. So sad that people don’t see any value in this stuff. Maybe we can change that.

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above, photos from 1987, by Malcolm Vidrine, of Frey prairie, when it was still in tact (from the book, The Cajun Prairie: A Natural History) click to enlarge, ya’ll

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Above, a photo of Frey from 2012, with Manfreda virginica in foreground and the purple of Liatris squarosa behind.

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above, a Live Oak seedling has grown in spite of fire, in my Frey prairie planting, Carriere, Mississippi, 2014, 13 years after planting. It is the bomb.

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when you’re on the ground, you can see the difference in the frequency benefit of burning. The left (west) side of the Frey prairie field has been burned five times in 13 years and the right has been burned only three. A lot more weedy stuff in the right side as compared to cool cat garden on the left. The right side area is still very diverse but with more Canada Goldenrod, Privet, and a little less grasses.

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Manfreda virginica in my Frey planting

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High-dollar Helianthus molls and Rudbeckia grandiflora. They don’t call it grandiflora for nuthin’

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the most delightfully aromatic and pretty unique plant, Sweet Goldenrod, Solidago odora. Frey prairie lives on!!!!!!

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These are some shots of some of the Duralde restoration Demo plots, north of Eunice. Two acres of individual species blocks (10 ftx 12 ft), planted with Cajun Prairie species, 80 in all. I got to see it just after the paths were mowed. This is the brainchild of Dr. Allen.

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a nice ground cover of Eryngium yuccafolium, a thick stand of juvenile seedlings

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Lespedeza capitata, nicely settled in this rectangle. Go Team Prairie!!!

dude, cool Jim Willis video on quail habitat reconstruction. see link