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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

a progression of tree growth 2006 – 2015 via satellite imagery 

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Covington Nature Park February 28 2006

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March 22, 2010

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March 5, 2013

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October 3, 2014

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

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above  – take a closer gander at our far’ handiwork

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

 

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

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

 

meadowmaker’s farm

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

nice grasses!

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

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prairie bling!!! Happy Birthday Candi!!

 

 

Heather Sullivan leads July MNPS trip to big trees in the Delta

The Mississippi Native Plant Society will host a field trip to the Mississippi Delta region, lead by first-class Botanist and all-around good person, Heather Sullivan. This note from Heather via Dr. Debora Mann, Dept of Biology, Millsaps College.

Heather is Botanist with the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson, Mississippi.

“Central Region Field Trip July 11th to Sky Lake Nature Trail.  The State Champion Bald Cypress is found on this scenic boardwalk trail through a cypress swamp.  Sky Lake is located north of Belzoni on Highway 7;  go north on Hwy 7 approximately 8 miles, and turn left on Four Mile Road.  Go approximately 3 miles to permit station, and take left at permit station on Lake Road (or Simmons Road).  Go approximately 0.25 miles to the Wildlife Management Area headquarters on the right.  We will meet at the parking lot at 9 a.m. The trail is shady, but mosquitoes will be present.  Anyone interested to going should let me know by email.  Heather.sullivan@mmns.state.ms.us ”

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and these are just the small ones! 🙂

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above is a cool photo of a topography map of the central GC and interior. I shot this in the office of Dr. Richard Brown, Museum of Entomology, Mississippi State University, June 2012. It demonstrates the vastness of the Mississippi Delta region. I flew over the Delta in a prop plane some years ago at about 10,000 feet, during the time the cotton was ready to be picked. It looked like there had been a blizzard below us- white as far as the eye could see.

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a not-so-swift graphic of what you see in Dr. Brown’s topo, maybe helpful descriptively somewhat. The Appalachians, jutting into what was the Mississippi embayment shoreline (the ancient Black Belt region of Mississippi and Alabama), the Piney Flatwoods of the Louisiana Florida Parishes, The Delta region, and notice the scale of the watershed of the Mobile-Tensas River, taking in the Escatawpa, Tombigbee-Warrior, Coosa, etc.

 

Crosby Arbo and LSU Design hosting eco-landscape Rock Stars

Its a matter of coincidence I’m sure that at the end of the month, within three days, the Crosby Arboretum, an arm of Landscape Architecture at Mississippi State University, and LSU’s Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture will each host lectures by an internationally recognized expert in the field of ecological-natural landscaping.

How cool is that?!!!

March 28th will bring to the Crosby Arboretum, located in the metropolis of Picayune, Mississippi, Rick Darke, an amazing speaker, horticulturist, author, and scientist. He has been promoting and using grasses since back in the early 90’s when I was just a whee whippersnapper novice to natives. Mr. Darke teamed-up and has just published his latest book, with Entomologist-nature-guy Doug Tallamy, titled The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden. Darke has written an amazing collection of horticultural publications including the Encyclopedia of Grasses for Living Landscapes, the American Woodland Garden-an American Horticultural Society book award winner, and The Wild Garden, among others. See this guy or regret your foolish absence. 🙂

http://www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu/pages/calmarch.php

On Monday April 1, at 5:00 at the LSU Art and Design auditorium, Dr. James Hitchmough, the world renown and highly acclaimed Professor of Horticultural Ecology, University of Sheffield, UK, will be speaking through the Paula D. Manship Endowed Lecture series, invited here by my fellow-instructor of the LSU Urban Meadows class, Prof. Wes Michaels. I had the great pleasure of meeting and spending a brief bit of time with Dr. Hitchmough a year ago at the 2014 NDAL and thoroughly enjoyed that time with him but I especially enjoyed his lecture. His is a most interesting and enlightening perspective, backed by hard-science, and of course the proof is in his awe-inspiring meadow gardens that he designs. His focus is on the seeded, urban landscape; one that evokes profound emotion and inspiration. His most recent books include Urban Landscape Management and The Dynamic Landscape. If you attend this lecture, I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.

http://design.lsu.edu/calendar/james-hitchmough-paula-g-manship-endowed-lecture/

I hope to see a good crowd in the audience for these two, for them to come from so far, and carrying such important messages. Do like me and tell all three of your friends.

 

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.

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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!!!!!

 

 

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 🙂

Long Leaf pine herbs workshop

Very excited to announce that I have been asked to be a participant in a workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation in Mobile, Alabama in October titled Exploring Heterogeneity in the Ecology, Restoration, and Management of Long Leaf Pine Groundcover. How cool is that? Little old me. 🙂

I will be one of 40 individuals on the workshop panel who will undoubtedly learn a lot that day. Can’t wait! Yip!

“The workshop will bring together a diverse mix of ecologists, restoration professionals, and managers to discuss and identify the existing knowledge, key assumptions, and unanswered questions related to the high biodiversity and heterogeneity of these communities.  Our workshop will be broad in scope – including ecology, restoration, and management, as well as the links among them – while remaining focused on groundcover.  As a participant, you would have opportunities to better develop communication across the network of longleaf groundcover practitioners (researchers, decision-makers, etc.).  We will collectively identify key unanswered questions concerning longleaf groundcover, and chart a course to bridge gaps that we together identify between research and management.”

The workshop is in conjunction with the combined Eastern Native Grass Symposium and the Long Leaf Alliance Conference which is scheduled for October 21-24.

Hope to see you there.

here’s the link to the conference, yall.

http://www.longleafalliance.org/events/2014-longleaf-alliance-regional-conference

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stylized rendering of Long Leaf and Sumac, Walter Anderson

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Slash Pine, Walter Anderson

 

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Pine homesite, oil on canvas, Phil Bourgeois (private collection)

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Abita Preserve, yesterday

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Asclepias tuberosa, Crosby Arboretum, yesterday

 

ahhh, enjoy the cool front in mid-july. nice weather outside folks, get out and get some.

central Gulf South Silphiums

Rosin Weeds are not weeds at all. They are really fine ornamental herbs that provide for substantial wildlife activity and add lots of pizzaz to a garden. Silphiums are some of the more shining, luminous jewels you can incorporated into your prairie-meadow if you’ve got one. Several Silphium species are native to our region and all are easily grown, adaptable, dependable, and extremely persistent garden plants. That is, if you can find them in the nursery trade available for purchase or …if can get some seed. Most all of mine were originally grown from seed.

Silphiums are no minor player when it comes to garden boldness. My friend Gail calls them “tall boys”, and puts them in the same category as Joe Pye Weed, Iron Weed and Big Bluestem. All are adaptable, long to establish but long-lived, and permanent plants that almost never need care.

They’re exquisitely beautiful organisms. Excellent garden plants, no doubt. They have a huge capacity in the landscape for specialized ecological function. They feed good-weird bugs and stuff (they’re highly attractive to butterflies and other very specialized pollinators, y’all).

I’ve heard some of my northern gardener-friends say that they are weedy, but I have not had that kind of luck yet. In the fifteen years or more I’ve grown Silphiums, I have never had enough show up via re-seeding and they have rarely become prolific in a planting, only somewhat, maybe. But they seem to be more than prolific above the Mason-Dixon line. Dumb luck, I guess.

Rosinweeds are for royalty. They are for refined gardens and wildscapes, too! They are horticultural clout. Vertical botanical bling! Some of Europe’s most visited gardens have American Silphiums in them. The Brits Dunnett and Hitchmough use them in their famous wildflower work. And where we live they are tame, yet seductive.

Most Silphiums grow as large-leaved herbaceous plants, big leafy rosettes with tall terminal stalks laden up-top with big butter-yellow ‘ray and disk’ flowers. In the best conditions, during the best year for rain, the tallest ones, the Compass Plant and Prairie Dock, both can grow flower stalks to eight or ten feet tall.

Who wants an eight foot tall herb in their garden? Me, that’s who!!!!

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above: a single flower of Will Fleming’s awesome “curly leafed” Rosin Weed, almost five inches across. not too shabby.

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Actually, Rosinweeds are just foliage clumps in the landscape for months in the spring and early summer until the plant prepares to bloom, sending stalks skyward. The photo above,(click it to enlarge it) taken by Jovonn Hill, of the Pulliam prairie landscape in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, with Prairie Dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum, just emerging in April, after a controlled burn. Cool thing is you can see right through the stalks of Silphiums when they bloom, like, the stalks almost become invisible.

Here are the Silphiums I have grown for some years now, in my gardens.

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above: Silphium laciniata, the Compass Plant, emerging after burn in spring in the Covington garden. 🙂

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Compass Plant in flower and fruit, Eunice, Louisiana

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Gail and UWA student Colton stand amongst hundreds of ancient Compass Plants at the oh-so-amazing Epes, Alabama chalk glade.

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above: seedling of Compass Plant from hand-harvest seed from Epes, growing at the Black Belt Prairie Garden, University of Western Alabama, Livingston, Alabama, May, 2014.

link to cool photos of Compass plant

http://www.missouriplants.com/Yellowalt/Silphium_laciniatum_page.html

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S. gracile or Slender Rosin Weed’s distribution range, above, a plant found both in Pine forests and Prairies in Louisiana. Lush rosettes, entire leaves, high-oil seed makes for an excellent wildlife plant. Gracile is a real southerner with a red-neck attitude, often kind of slouchy and grinning. No, really, its a very plant with a good attitude. Niche Gardens, a specialty native plant nursery in Chapel Hill, N.C offers this species for sale.

S. simpsonii, Simpson’s or Tall Rosin Weed is a non-Louisiana Native given to me by Texan nurseryman Peter Loos in the mid 1990’s. Good-naturalizing, adaptable, seed excellent for wildlife. Looks very similar to gracile.

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early growth of Silphium simpsoni, above

S. integrifolium, Prairie Rosin Weed, is found associated with inland prairies of Louisiana and the Jackson Belt prairies of Mississippi. Its a Rosin Weed with conspicuous leaf arrangement. A vertically attractive course-textured plant.

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above: the burly-tough rigid stem and leaves of Silphium integrifolium

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above, Silphium integrifolia in full-glory, Harrell Prairie Botanical Area, Bienville National Forest, Scott County, Mississippi

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S. terebinthinaceum, Prairie Rosin Weed (above), is not found naturally occurring in Louisiana and is only found in one county in Mississippi and one in Alabama. Its at the southern end of its range here in the GS. The largest leafed Silphium, by far. Awesome. Tony Avant of Plant Delights nursery in Chapel Hill grows and offers it for sale. Mine hasn’t bloomed yet and it is at least five years old but the leaves are very large and showy without flowers. It may have a lot to do with the seed coming from clay-specific soils to acid soils here in Covington, duh.

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above: S. perfoliatum, The Cup Plant, is an uncommon plant in Louisiana, with records in only one Parish. More commonly found in much of the eastern U.S (minus Texas), this guy has the distinction of forming “cups”, where water collects where the ‘perforated’ leaves join the stem. Bold and strongly structural architecture.

S. asteriscus, Starry Rosin Weed, is one I have only grown for four or five years now. It seems to be very floriferous and a bit shorter than most other species.

Silphium (origin, Will Fleming) is a curly margined form of a yet-unidentified (um, I forget) species with a distinctive leaf form. I’ve grown this plant for five or so years. A worthy ornamental.

Propagation of these species is fairly easy if you have some good, viable seed. Just sow the seed in a good soil mix and barely cover the seed, enough to keep it moist. Germination will come pretty quickly unless its the dead of winter. Field grown Silphium seed is a horse of a different color. Seed I sowed of laciniata, in 1998 and 99 didn’t show up for several years, being out-competed and beat-up by unwanted competition. So eliminate competition in the field before sowing and maybe save yourself some years of waiting and wondering.

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actual flowers of Silphium

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after flowering, seed setting

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The oily seed of Silphium is covered by a wafer-like coating

 

Get down, get tall, get Silphium, and get with it, folks!!!!

 

the link below is the short version of the Flora of Pulliam Prairie paper.

http://www.bluegrasswoodland.com/uploads/Campbell___Seymour_2011b.pdf

 

 

after a dozen years, interseeding at the Farm!

The prairie gardens at Meadowmakers’ farm were planted twelve to fourteen years ago: in the early winter of 1999, 2000, and 2001. Very little has been done in these areas except to burn them about every third year since that time.

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above: a general design of the planted areas at Meadomakers’ Farm

When I planted the gardens, I was focused on the attempt to create blocks of individual species and combinations of a few species or more. At the time, the only means to collect seed was by hand-collection, just stripping seed from the plant. I had no interest in including grasses because I didn’t realize at the time how necessary they were to incorporating fire into the management program. What I’ve learned since is that you have to have grasses to get good burns. The controlled burns are the tool that levels the playing field, reducing intense competition and increasing chances that the planting with succeed. Fire brings forth beauty and ecological function.

This idea was proven in the last planting of this three year span of planting. The last one I did was in November 2001. I remember it clearly because it was right after the World Trade Center bombings in New York when I was tilling soil. The seed I was collected with a brand new hand-held motorized seed collector from Prairie Habitats, Manitoba Canada  (eh?). The collection site was Frey Prairie remnant, just south of Eunice. I collected for about three or so hours and got about two or three pounds of seed at most. The seed went out into the newly tilled ground and for many years I thought this spot had failed to produce anything of substance.

Not until five or so years later did I start to see the real result of my work. It became clear over time that this patch of ground turned out to be something particularly significant. Today its pretty obvious when you contrast this planting to any of the other plantings, you’ll see a clear difference in the number of woody plants present. There are very few woody plants here as compared to most of the other non-grass plantings. Grasses, through their connection with fire, obviously weed-out the Chinese Privet, Wax Myrtle and Callery Pear through the benefit of intense heat.

This year is the first year I am working on woody plant control at the farm. And its the first year that I will introduce seed to the original plantings since they were first intalled. I haven’t done anything before this year simply because the rule of law was to keep my paws out of the picture. Charles Allen had told me early on to “do nothing and be patient”, so I did and I was. N

From the beginning, I had decided two things regarding maintenance. 1. that no woody plant eradication would be done and 2. No additional seeding was to be added to the fields until time had passed sufficiently to determine an outcome. Decisions could then be made according to what had occurred. I never determined when I would start with these efforts, but fire would be used as often as possible, once per year was my hope.

So this year has become the year of woody eradication at the Farm (or at least trials of different approaches to woody eradication). And its the year of interseeding: the act of introducing new seed to an already established planting. I have seeded different seed using different seeding approaches as well. This should change the way the fields look in the future and it will change how they respond when it comes to controlled burns.

In November, I started with an acre planting that had been fairly well encroached-upon by privet. Here, I used a chain saw to cut the privet at the soil line and then mowed the entire area thoroughly. No herbicide was applied. I then seeded into it, a diverse mix of grasses and wildflowers. Existing here already is mix of Silphium gracile, Baptisias, Marshallia trinerva, Gailardia aestivalus var Winklerii and dominated mostly by Monarda fistulosa and Monarda lindhiemeri, and dominant with large pink drifts of Bee Balm, Monarda.

In early March I was able, with the help of a friend, to do a burn in a patch of about two and a half acres. This one had been planted back in November 2000. The area is one of the most the most garden-like of all the plantings with really robust stands (individual planting blocks) of Eryngium, Penstemon, Baptisia alba, Helianthus mollis, Monarda, Coreopsis pubescens, Sium suave, Pycnanthemum tenuifolia, Marshallia trinerva, Phlox pilosa and the awesome spearmint scented Mountian Mint, Pycnanthemum albescens var. ‘Malcolm Vidrine’. After the fire, I then seeded with a wonderful mix of Little Bluestem and Virginia Bluestem grass.

Tuesday this week we burned another four acre patch of ground that holds 22 experiments. Most of these were single-species plantings but a few were diverse seed mixes and fewer still were two or three-species-plantings. This area was the most daunting of all with lots of Privet and Wax Myrtle. We timed this burn so that the most substantial injury to the woody plants was inflicted. We wanted them to hurt! They’re most vulnerable to fire just after leaf flush and in the case of the Privet, just after flowers are produced. We got a pretty nice fire to go through and much of the woody stuff was obviously effected. I will probably follow-up with a chainsaw and lay down the woody plants that weren’t effected by flame. After the fire, I immediately started seeding with a very diverse mix, dominant in Little Blue and Indian grass. Hopefully this will be beneficial to the cause.

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before fire       click to enlarge photos

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after fire

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Terry “Burn-man” Johnson walks out of the smoke during the fire…

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Silphium, Rosenweed, before the fire…

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and after….

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Rudbeckia grandiflora in the foreground and coreopsis in bloom above…  before…

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…and after the fire.

Yesterday I burned another area (about 1200 square feet) that I had sprayed a few times with herbicide last summer. This patch of ground joins another area (about 1000 square feet) that had become fully engulfed in old Privet. Ten-year-old Privet stacked one on top of the other here, completely covered the area. Last January, my friend Jim McGee and I cut the Privet from the site and burned it. I recently sprayed the area with herbicide. Yesterday was a big day for me because it was seeding day for what I consider to be the most promising blend of grasses designed to be a low-mow lawn for the Central Gulf Coastal states. These two areas were covered in seed and hopefully we’ll see some results soon.

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preparing the Low-Mow lawn seeding area

Along with Farm’s wildflower bling, the management comparisons we’ve executed this year should be beneficial to the group that shows up for our annual Field Day on May 17th. That’s the day! Be there or be square, man.

Botanist Heather Sullivan is expected make the scene and we will all certainly benefit from her unique botanical perspective and her ever-pleasant disposition.

Ya’ll should come! We welcome you!

my way-cool prairie garden as it changes through the year 2013……

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january

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April

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June

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October

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December

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above: A Mississippi Kite, Ictinia mississippiensis, flew right over my head yesterday at the Farm, I caught it on camera as it went past, sweeping the fields for dinner.

good day!!!

 

slo-mo snake attack just like on TV, and other “wild things” news

So there I was, Monday, working in my meadow gardens here at the Ponderosa when my phone rang. I needed a break anyway so reaching into my pocket, and took the call.  While chatting to my client, I proceeded to sit down in the path next to the garden in the small shade of a juvenile water oak.

As I sat, it all happened so quickly but I can recall it clearly, as in slow motion. I happened to be just looking in the direction of a cool blue-leafed switch grass in the central part of the garden a few feet away when all of a sudden a Bronze frog (Lithobates clamitans, I think)in an ascending lift-off, airborne, flying towrds me from the horizon, landing just next to me. Directly on the trail of the frog, coming over the same horizon, was a sprinting three-foot-long snake, hot on the trail of the frog. He’d come from around the switch grass too and he got a glimpse of me which stopped him in his tracks. He put a screeching halt to his progress and quickly cut-off to the north into a big patch of Bee Balm and he was gone. This all happened within a few feet of me and within the time frame of a second or two. The frog took one more giant leap for frog-kind into the pond on the other side of the path and he was gone, too. How fun!

Caroline Dorman called this “the gift of the wild things”.

This reminds me of the time I was collecting some water lettuce from a friend’s pond in Slidel, when I saw a nice little froggy swimming by in front of me and then SPLASH!!   a moccasin ate that sucker up right before my very eyes. yikes. Biology rocks!!!

 

Three upcoming events dealing with the wild things are coming up, all rolled into one week!

First-up is the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society’s prairie garden tour on May 10 in Eunice. I’m pretty sure that without the pioneering activities of Malcolm Vidrine and Charles Allen, there would be no Cajun Prairie left. But because of their brilliance and wisdom and hard work and a lot of help from volunteers, some of the remaining gene pool of Coastal Prairie has been preserved. We work hard on this and other sites so that people like you can see for yourself in living color! This property is on permanent display for your benefit. Come any time. Come see for yourself the kaleidoscopic vegetation, man.  We’ll travel five miles north from Eunice to Duralde restored prairie which is a much larger property where we’ll see some more unique plantings of crazy-cool wildflowers and then see progress made, since our last visit, on the two year old Demonstration Gardens there. Should be fun and informative. It always is for me! contact Charles Allen for details native@camtel.net

May 13-15 is a Plant Identification Class presented by Charles Allen in the Pitkin (Louisiana) Metro area. As you may know, Charles has a third-degree black-belt in buffet and a very specialized garden designed as a kind-of native bird and bug “rest area”. Charles plants gardens to attract wildlife and to demonstrate gardening techniques for using natives and attracting native critters. He also is all-things-caretake-of-rare-plants at Ft Polk, Louisiana where the flars are pretty. He is an biologist and educator, he can’t help himself. This is a very popular, very well done event, folks. The last one he did had no availability by start time (it was filled up!) and this one is almost full (two spaces left as of this a.m.) so contact Charles at native@camtel.net or 337 328 2252 for more info.  the flyer for this is posted at the bottom of this page.

Lastly, Patricia Drackett of the Crosby Arboretum has organized a field trip to Meadowmakers’ Farm and Hillside Bog Natural area on May 17th in Pearl River County, Mississippi. This is a joint event hosted by Crosby, Meadowmakers Farm, and the Louisiana and Mississippi Native Plant Societies. Heather Sullivan, botanist on staff at the Mississippi Natural History Museum, will lead the two trips. I am so excited to have Heather walk with me through the wildflower plantings at the farm. Its a big deal for me. This is the first visit to the farm for Heather and it should be a treat to see the different plantings through her eyes. Lots will be in bloom. You should come! We’ll break for lunch on or own and reconvene at the Crosby satellite property, the Hillside Bog. The Bog should be in full glory with wonderful wild things to gawk at.

Bring your own boots, water, shade hat and find a restroom before you arrive at the Farm and at Hillside Bog because we’ll be in the woods, more or less, ya’ll, you know what I mean?  This aint no sea cruise.  🙂  Actually, on Highway 43, just a mile west of the Farm, is Fortenberry’s Grocery and Slaughterhouse. They have welcomed any visitors who need restroom facilities and at Hillside Bog, there is a gas station just down the street, a few hundred yards away.

see links below for details  or call me at 504 296 8162

http://www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu/pages/calmay.php

https://marcpastorek.wordpress.com/crosby-native-plant-society-meadowmakers-botany-field-trip/

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PLANT IDENTIFICATION WORKSHOP 2014

 Tuesday May 13 thru Thurs May 15, 2014

Allen Acres in Cravens, Louisiana; 5070 Hwy 399; Pitkin, LA 70656

337-328-2252  native@camtel.net  www.nativeventures.net

 

If you want to learn to recognize many of the common plants of Louisiana and the Gulf South, the names of those plants, and how to identify other plants, this is the workshop for you.   The workshop will include fieldtrips, where you can see the plants in their natural environment as well as labeled specimens in a lab setting.  Additional info on plant identification will be presented thru power-point presentations and printed handouts.  You will be given BRF’s (Best Recognizing Features) for each plant plus other facts like use, edibility etc.  You are encouraged to photograph, take notes, ask questions, and take specimens with you.  During the three day workshop, you will be exposed to more than 200 species of wildflowers, grasses, ferns, trees, shrubs, and vines.

The schedule:

Tues May 13, Wed May 14, and Thurs May 15:  9 AM till 5 pm (fieldtrips, power-point presentations,

discussions, questions and answers) Lunch provided

 

Cost for Workshop = $200 (includes three days of intense plant identification and lunch daily)

 

Other Options:  Allen Acres B and B:  $70 per room per night (includes Breakfast) (usually $80)

Allen Acres camping: $20 per person per night (includes Breakfast)

Dinner (supper) $10 per person per meal

 

Registration for Dr. Charles Allen Plant Identification Workshop 2014-2, Tues May 13, 2014-Thurs May 15, 2014.  Preregistration required.  May cancel on or before May 9 for full refund.  No refund after May 9.

 

Name_________________________________________

Address____________________________________________

Email_________________________________________________

Phone_____________________________________________________

 

Plant ID Class                                                                $200

Options

B and B; $70 per night per room             ______________________