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.

P1210243

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.

PCD0001_IMG0008 p1020337_2

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).

pdmagyrans2photo8

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!!!!!

 

 

PH species list for SW Louisiana-Gulf-Coastal-wet-prairie-seed collection, 2014

Special thanks to biologists Dr. Charles M. Allen, Dr. Malcolm F. Vidrine, Dr. Charles Bryson, Chris Reid, Larry Allain, Dr. Charles Bryson, Gail Barton, and Dr. Billy Delany for their valuable assistance with guiding work to develop this list!

Louisiana Coastal Tall Grass Wet Prairie Species collection-list 2015                              Pastorek Habitats, LLC, Covington, Louisiana

grasses and grass-like species

Andropogon gerardii

Andropogon glommeratus

Andropogon gyrans

Andropogon ternarius

Andropogon scoparium

Andropogon virginicus

Anthaenantia rufa

Aristida purpurascens

Aristida dichotoma

Aristida longespica

Bothriochloa longipaniculata

Carex glaucescens

Carex vulpinoidea

Cladium jamaicense

Coelorachis cylindrica

Coelorachis rugosa

Ctenium aromaticum

Cyperus acuminatus

Cyperus erythrorhizos

Cyperus haspan

Cyperus psuedovegetus

Cyperus oxylepis

Cyperus virens

Dicanthelium aciculare

Dicanthelium commutatum

Dicanthelium dichotomum

Dicanthelium scoparium

Dicanthelium scabrusculum

Dichromena colorata

Digitaria filiformis var. villosa

Eliocharis montevidensis

Eliocharis quadrangularis

Eragrostis elliotii

Eragrostis refracta

Eragrostis spectabilis

Erianthus gigantea

Erianthus strictus

Eriocolon decangulare

Fuirena squarrosa

Juncus dichotomus

Juncus tenuis

Juncus marginatus

Leersia orysoides

Muhlenbergia capillaris

Muhlenbergia capillaris var expansa

Panicum anceps

Panicum dichotomiflorum

Panicum dichotomum

Panicum virgatum

Paspalum floridanum

Paspalum laeve

Paspalum praecox

Paspalum plicatulum

Rhynchospora corniculata

Rhynchospora inexpansa

Rhyncospora glaberata

Rhyncospora globularis

Scirpus cyperinus

Schizachyrium scoparium

Schizachyrium tenerum

Scleria pauciflora

Scleria reticularis

Sorgastrum nutans

Sporobolus junceus

Steinchisma hians

Tridens ambiguus

Tridens flavus

Tridens strictus

Tripsicum dactyloides

forbs and composites

Agalinus fasciculata

agalinus purpurea

Agalinus viridis

Aletris aurea

Amsonia tabernaemontana

Arnoglossum ovata

Asclepias lanceolata

Asclepias obovata

Asclepias viridiflora

Baptisia alba

Baptisia bracteata

Baptisia spherocarpa

Baptisia nuttalliana

Bigelowia nudata

Boltonia difusa

Boltonia asteroides

Biden aristosa

Bidens mitis

Buchnera americana

Cicuta maculata

Chamaecrista fasciculata

Coreopsis tinctoria

Coreopsis lanceolata

Coreopsis linifolia

Coreopsis tripteris

Coreopsis pubescens

Chrysopsis mariana

Croton monanthogynus

Croton capitatus

Dalea candida

Desmodium paniculatum

Echinacea pallida

Erigeron strigusus

Eryngium yuccafolium

Eryngium integrifolium

Erythrina herbacea

Eupatorium album

Eupatorium coelestinum

Eupatorium hyssopifolium

Eupatorium ivifolium

Eupatorium perfoliatum

Eupatorium rotundifolium

Eupatorium xpinnatifidum

Euphorbia corollata

Eurybia hemispherica

Euthamia leptocephala

Euthamia tenuifolia

Gailardia aestivalis

Gailardia aestivalis var flarovirens

Gnaphalium obtusifolium

Guara lindhiemeri

Guara longiflora

Helianthus angustifolius

Helianthus mollis

Heterotheca subaxillaris

Hibiscus mosheutos

Hibiscus grandiflorus

Hypericum nudiflorum

Hydrolea ovata

Hydrolea unifora

Hyptis alata

Kosteletzkya virginica

Lespedeza capitata

Lespedeza virginica

Liatris acidota

Liatris elegans

Liatris spicata

Liatris pycnostachya

Liatris squarrosa

Lobelia appendiculata

Lobelia floridana

Lobelia puberula

Manfreda virginica

Monarda fistulosa

Monarda lindhiemeri

Monarda punctata

Oxypolis filiformis

Passiflora incarnata

Penstemon digitalis

Pluchea comphorata

Pluchea foetida

Polytaenia nuttallii

Pycnanthemum albescens

Pycnanthemum muticum

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium

Rhexia mariana

Rhexia lutea

Rhexia virginica

Ruellia humilis

Rudbeckia hirta

Rudbeckia grandiflora

Rudbeckia texana

Sabatia campestris

Sabatia gentianoides

Sabatia macrophylla

Salvia azurea

Scutellaria integrifolia

Shrankia quadrivalis

Silphium asteriscus

Silphium gracile

Silphium Laciniata

Solidago nitida

Solidago odora

Solidago rugosa

Solidago sempervirens

Strophostyles umbellata

Symphyotrichum dumosum

Symphyotrichum concolor

Symphyotrichum lateriflorus

Symphyotrichum patens

Symphyotrichum praealtus

Tephrosia onobrychoides

Teucrium canadense

Vernonia gigantea

Vernonia missourica

Vernonia texana

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.

mandeville pine prairiemandeville

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.

MODEL - SCENE 7

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

MODEL - SCENE 3

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

MODEL - SCENE 2

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

MODEL - SCENE 10

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!

MODEL - SCENE 8

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

cool, useful plants, and cool, useful insects

Our old farm land in south Mississippi, in the last sixty years, had been dozed and then terraced, planted with Tung oil trees (in the 1950’s), cleared for cow pasture (in the 1970’s) and then attempt-restored with native wildflower and grasses (in the 1990’s). One of the most abundant plants on the property is one I didn’t plant, the somewhat common Willow Leaf Aster, Aster prealtus. Its a dog-gone pretty thing, with lavender flowers on terminal tips and blooms the third week of October. What I heard from Dr. Malcolm Vidrine recently is that it is one of the most important plants for Monarchs on their migration south on their way to winter in Mexico. Malcolm’s comment stuck with me and gave me a new perspective on what I thought was kind of a weedy plant. I was at the farm yesterday and got to see my fields of Willow Leaf Aster in blazing glory. Its a disturbance oriented plant, it seems, found where some sort of soil activity has occurred. That’s why Aster prealtus is so important, since much of our land these days has been disturbed one way or another and many of the high-end nectar plants are simply gone. Aster prealtus and some others make up for that to some degree.

photo-52 photo-53

Above: Aster (Symphyotrichum) prealtus, Willow Leaf Aster, outstanding in my field, yesterday. click on fotos to enlarge them…

photo-52

above, distribution range of Aster prealtus var. prealtus in Louisiana, source Flora of Louisiana, Charles Allen and R. Dale Thomas

Also, this week, I found for the first time, a very happy, Late Purple Aster, Aster patens, growing in a planting I planted 13 years ago this month, at the farm. Whoa! …a new species for the farm! Nice…..   Maybe I just hadn’t noticed it before since a I found a few more just after finding the first.

Aster georgia 028a Aster_patens_leaves_resized

Aster patens is a very nice garden plant, a high conservatism species, a 9 on C of C. Tiny flowers and, a delicate thing. Notice how the leaves are wrapped around the stem, a tell-tail ID trait that separates it from many.

IMG_8596 IMG_8597

above: Aster lateriflorus, Calico Aster, growing in a highway edge of gravel, with fellow disturbance plants, Bushy Bluestem and Bermuda grass on Highway 25 north of Covington last week. Its nothing but a weed, but a very good weed, indeed.

photo-54 2228-aster-dumosus-3

Above: on left, Rice Button Aster, Aster Dumosus, one of our most abundant Asters. and its improved horticultural cultivar?  … Aster dumosus “Kristina”, on right.

photo-52

distribution range of A. dumosus in Louisiana. Its just about everywhere, folks.
photo-52 photo-52

I took this picture of a very contemplative Monty the Dog, posing next to a short, rounded Rice Button Aster plant and he took this one of me, next to a wily, gigantic Rice Button, at the edge of the pond. Both of these plants showed up as seedlings and were then left to grow.

IMG_1631 IMG_1792

above: This is the most-endearing Aster pratensis, growing with Swamp Sunflower, Narrow Leaf Mountain Mint and Little Bluestem grass Cajun Prairie Society Restoration Project, Eunice. A. pratensis and A. concolor are nearly identical, Charles Allen says. Pratensis is to the west of the Mississippi and concolor is to the east. This is a stunningly beautiful flower, big (a little smaller than or about the size of a silver dollar) and a good Mardi Gras color purple, found in high quality late succession natural areas. These would maybe never be considered a marketable ornamental plant because the plant is usually a leaning stalk with a flower or three at the tip. But it seems it could be a parent for horticultural breeding program, huh?

IMG_8003

above: Jim Foret checking the bee hive at the edge of Charles Allen’s butterfly-bee garden, October 8, 2014, Pitkin, Louisiana. Jim donated the hive to Charles’ bee cause. It was a hive of Jim’s friend who thought it was too heavy to work. Jim packed it into his truck one night last spring and drove it up to Vernon Parish to Charles’. He was checking out the interior bee goings-on before winter to see how they were set up with honey. Go Jim!

Along with butterflies and skippers, native bees and the old world honey bees, wasps are also huge fans of Asters. Have asters and have a host of good insect species that will utilize them. Fun stuff.

I am so darned excited about an upcoming building project I can’t stand it!  …my Kenyan salt pond top-bar bee hive construction project. Jim Foret recommended me looking into it since I told him I wanted to have a working hive around but I didn’t want to work the hive much. I searched Kenyan Top Bar and saw a youtube of U.S. Peace Corps youngsters filming a few guys constructing one in Guinea, Africa. check out how easy it is to build and then find a youtube that demonstrates harvesting the honey and comb. It is so complex, the hive workings, but so simple it seems, to build the hive!

Also, check out a recent paper (2004) by Chandra Sara Bartholomew on native bees done at Abita (TNC), Sandy Hollow (USF&W), and Camp Whispering Pines, in the Florida Parishes.   ….excellent paper, excellent insight and has everything to do with native bees.

http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-07062004-113139/unrestricted/Bartholomew_thesis.pdf

 

prairie phenology, Obama goes native, Chris Reid prairie presentation-video, gaga for Milkweeds…

In prairie, a picture doesn’t speak a thousand words. You have to get out in it to see a prairie first hand to really begin to try to grasp it. Its like trying to describe the vastness of the scenery from a 14000 footer in the rockies with a picture. It doesn’t cut the mustard, as my Dad used to say. Of the many aspects of Malcolm Vidrine’s book The Cajun Prairie: A Natural History, the phenology chart is one of my favorite graphics for conveying the sequenced abundance of the prairie.

Prairie phenolgy describes what transpires florally through the season and in this case, the Cajun Prairie, the Coastal Prairie of southwestern Louisiana. Every month that passes changes the landscape. This listing of 170 species is about half of the 350+ herbaceous species in the Cajun Prairie that have Coefficients of Conservatism, 4 or higher.   fact: Cajun Prairie is one of the most diverse of all prairie grass systems in North America.

IMG_3446

IMG_3449 IMG_3450

click photo to enlarge the image

…” as the seasons advance, the panorama of the landscape varies to an extent that is almost kaleidescopic in character…”   John E. Weaver  (amazing prairie dude)

succession chart-1

above: a “succession through the season” interpretive graphic produced by the design team of Roy Dufreche, Adam Perkins, Margaret Wilkinson, and myself for the one-acre prairie/savanna garden at Chapapeela Sports Park in Hammond. Louisiana.

For more on Coefficients of Conservatism, see the link below:

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1061&context=napcproceedings&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Fsearch%3Fclient%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den%26q%3Dfloristic%2Bstudy%2Bcajun%2Bprairie%26ie%3DUTF-8%26oe%3DUTF-8#search=%22floristic%20study%20cajun%20prairie%22

Also, check out the presidential memorandum on native plants and pollinators for federal building projects. saweet!

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/20/presidential-memorandum-creating-federal-strategy-promote-health-honey-b

See an amazingly solid presentation by State botanist Christopher Reid on the interest in conserving new discovered and superbly awesome prairie lands that are in private hands. The presentation was at the State of the Prairie Conference held by the Coastal Prairie Partnership (Louisiana and Texas). It is well worth a sit-down listen.  link-up!

http://prairiepartner.org/video/balancing-immediate-conservation-action-with-long-term-research?xg_source=msg_mes_network

Dr. Mac Vidrine, Milkweed Master.

10273363_657184851026801_1717454723394768461_o

above: Malcolm guides a group of Louisiana Master Naturalist students through his front-yard plant breeding nursery, Eunice Louisiana, June 2014

If you are a fan of Monarchs and butterflies in general, and you haven’t yet seen the newsletter from the spring of this year from the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society, you might want to check it out since it is full of good stuff, lots to do with Monarchs and Milkweeds. Dr. Allen and Dr. Vidrine both wrote an article worthy of study. linkarama…

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

Malcolm has devised some neat ways to counter the mortality rate of nursery grown milkweeds as they transition into the landscape.

IMG_7343

Mac Vidrine’s hand adds scale to the fruiting Asclepias tuberosa, Orange Milkweed, in his garden, hidden snugly amongst the Little Bluestem grass. August 2014

IMG_7347

above: yearling Tuberosa Milkweeds. Dr. Vidrine starts his seed in peat pots and then transplants them into ten gallon sized nursery containers for the entire first growing season. You can just barely make-out the peat pots here in this image. After a year in the pots, he carefully removes the rootball-soil, he slides the entire rootmass from the pots and then plants it halfway into the prairie garden soil, as a single unit. The upper part of the rootball is left above ground so isn’t susceptible to rot. This leaves half of the rootball above ground, allowing the plants to become fully established during the second year.

IMG_7350

an Asclepias perennis crop coming on…

IMG_7349

above: a crop of Asclepias verticilata

IMG_7346

the very sharp Mac “the Knife” Vidrine surveying his milkweed-permaculture extravaganza

2002_0818_105336AA-1

the prairie dudes, circa 2001-2, me on far left, Charles Allen, Peter Loos, Bill Fontenot, Malcolm Vidrine, Larry Allain

20131104_121952_garth_500

this is me after several years, showing the detrimental effects resulting from a chronic interest in diverse natural prairie.  🙂

 

 

Iberia Parish’s Matt Conn makes New York Times with his wetland restoration project + 120 acres, dripping, oozing in wondrous herbicidedness + a holy-cow prairie remnant!!!

I was treated to the wondrous sight Tuesday of the project property where the mother load, 700 pounds, of wet-coastal prairie seed, seed that I have been collecting this summer, will be planted. The vegetation was nice and toasty brown, the color of awesome death. Yummy!! Boy did this make me (and my seed) happy. 🙂

After all, why would anyone work so hard and stake so much investment in money, seed and time only to see in three or so years that it all was wasted because the right prep work wasn’t done? I would rather see the weedy vegetation totally-wasted, and my seed, so precious and rare, and so hard to acquire, given a proper chance for survival. No, this seed deserves an opportunity for a long and healthy life.

IMG_7451

above, looking west from the center of the property in southern Calcasieu Parish (click pic to enlarge)

IMG_7463

above, looking north ……and into the bright future…

After the visit to the planting site, I was then lead by a good friend and mentor across the creek (the Calcasieu River) to see what he said was definitively “the most significant coastal prairie site in the state”. This coming from a fellow who at his early age, has just about seen it all. Pretty sure he was right with that claim, after seeing it with my own eyes. It was an old cattle farm property that had never been plowed, complete with monstrous pimple mounds, low prairie, and an occasional marias, all filled with premier prairie vegetation and very little, almost no, foreign invaders. On the pimple mounds were the high and dry species, some common in the Looziana sandy piney woods. At the base of and surrounding the mounds were the heavy-soil low-land species. And in the marias were the marginal aquatic and aquatic species, all thick like hair on a dog’s back. We walked through dense vegetation. We worked for our reward since it was a good, hot day albeit a bit over cast and a long way to go. We made a large loop with many smaller dipseydoodle-loops through what I’m guessing was about ten to fifteen acres or more of land and saw only a small portion of what was there to be seen. When we were done, we were both dripping wet, soaked to our boots. Had a good work-out/ detox! Spent over two hours ooh-ing and ah-ing. I am not sure who was more excited, he or I. In April, he and his colleagues had used fire in the way of controlled burn, to breathe new life into this amazingly diverse prairie remnant, something it had not seen for many many years.

IMG_7522 IMG_7493

My friend Chris in Little Bluestem grass, with tall, wiry spikes of Florida Paspalum in foreground. On right, the milkweed Asclepias obovata, with the foliage (above my hand) of Twisted leaf Goldenrod, Solidago tortifolia (click on pics to enlarge ’em, ya’ll)

IMG_7492 IMG_7499

Twisted leaf Goldenrod just barely coming into color on left (it was stunningly electric), and the chalky blue of Andropogon virginicus var. glaucopsis, Blue leafed Broomsedge. Can you say drool?

IMG_7504 IMG_7569

above, a sea of Solidago tortifolia and Liatris pychnostachya, and an odd-ball colored Pychnostach of thousands there, a lighter shade of pnerple!

IMG_7506 IMG_7512

Chris, wading through the pycnostach, and the whiteness of Eupatorium hissopifolia on right (a pod of passion vine in my hand). num num!

IMG_7516

Pinky-purple Muhly grass in color with a crispy-black skeletal remains of a juvenile wax myrtle in foreground/ right

IMG_7532

the daisy-like Bidens aristosa, umbels of twisted leaf Goldenrod, spikey liatris and barely visible naked inflorescences of Florida Paspalum

IMG_7536

above, yours truly in a marias pothole, about an acre in diameter. I went straight for the center where the Eliocharis quadrangularis was. How cool is this folks?!!!! Water was about six inches deep throughout the pothole.

IMG_7538

dried up leaves of American Lotus, amongst the dense, lush foliage of Panicum hemitomum. “Lotus in a prairie”, said the Zen master.

IMG_7554

Chris and I agreed that we both had never seen anything close to this size of a stand of the delightful mint, Hyptis alata, Cluster Bushmint. This is a highly significant plant, attractive to numerous nectaring insects. This patch was about two acres in size. Woah! We were both likes little kids in a candy store. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We had found heaven on Earth.

IMG_7549

I spotted an anomaly out of the ten thousand Hyptus plants, a double flowering form that stuck out like a sore thumb, above

IMG_7552

Eupatorium rotundifolium, insect airport

IMG_7562

Here you can barely make out a green mound on which Chris stands. A pimple mound that rose about six feet above the surrounding area, supporting unique vegetation. Dude.

IMG_7574

IMG_7578

No need for me to dream tonight! (me and my grin, a selfie, through a fogged-up smart phone lens)

Folks!!!! check out The New York Times article on Iberian Matt Conn. Matt bought seed from us last year for part of his 60 acre wetland restore. A well-done article on a cool young dude with lots of ambition. see the link below. read it and weep.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/us/a-hobbyist-whose-workshop-sits-among-the-cypress-trees.html?_r=0

also check out Matt’s blog   http://turtleboyandthebirds.blogspot.com/

 

L-DOT decides that Big Al needs a prairie pal

Thanks to the brilliance and foresight of ULL Professor Jim Foret and his former student, La state Transportation Department supervisor Ryan Dugas, the New Iberia-Lafayette area will be the recipients of a cool 1.3 acre Coastal Tall grass Prairie planting just next to Big Al, the massive Live Oak that was relocated a couple of years ago during construction along highway 190.

Ryan, Jim, and I met in the spring to discuss a plan of action to join these two in the holy bond of marriage and since then Ryan has taken steps that will prepare the way for planting this winter. Big Al the Live Oak was moved only because folks came out of the woodwork to fight to save him and as a result, two years later, we have a well-settled-in friend who seemed a bit lonesome up on his knoll. Jim and Ryan took it upon themselves to remedy that lonesomeness. In the spring and summer next year a prairie will begin to emerge as a life companion for Mr. Al. I couldn’t think of a more compatible couple, …those two lovebirds! 🙂

IMG_4028

above: Prof. Jim Foret, left, walks up to a very Big Al, with Dr Charles Allen, to check Al’s pulse, a year or so after the move, in spring 2013 (click to enlarge the photo)

The prairie planting will be done just east of Al, in a 1.3 acre triangle shaped arrangement in a pre-Christmas marriage ceremony. Pastorek Habitats, LLC will provide the seed for the awesome planting. All Louisiana’s folks are invited to be witnesses to this nuptial blessing. Here is one of the signs made recently to be placed along the highway shortly after their honeymoon is over. (photo courtesy of Ryan, via Jim)

IMG_6865

I hope to see ya’ll at the ceremony! Peace.

PH awarded Coastal Prairie Wetland banking seed contract!

Pastorek Habitats, LLC has been awarded a contract to collect wetland prairie species seed for two 100+ acre wetland banking properties in Cameron Parish. This is something I have been interested in for many years, working with Coastal Prairie (Cajun Prairie) wetland species. So, lately I have been in my shrimp boots(Hackberry Nikes) sloshing in sweltering ditches and bogs for six or eight hours a day, hand-gathering and then drying and processing the crops that are in season.   …enjoying every minute of it.

The restorations will provide wetland functions and values to the land. These include:

  • Restoring bottomland hardwood and coastal prairie/freshwater marsh wetlands
  • Increasing the quality of habitat for native and Nearctic-Neotropical speices
  • Increasing watershed water quality by retiring existing agricultural land from agronomic and livestock production

The restoration will be accomplished with the following:

  • Long-term protection with a perpetual conservation servitude
  • Establishment of maintenance and protection funds in perpetuity

Pretty cool, huh?!

Most all of my restoration work until this project has been in upland prairie species. This opportunity not only adds an element of new car smell, it also gives me the opportunity to learn a whole list of species that I have for the most part been overlooking all these years simply because the focus was up-out of the bogs and ditches, so to speak: on the higher ground. I couldn’t be doing the work without expert taxonomists who are on board to help identify what it is that I can’t. Plant geeks rock!!!!! What’s particularly exciting for us is that these two projects have lead to another consulting opportunity.

Yipp-ieee!!!

None of this could have been made possible but for the knowledge I have gained hanging out with some of the most interesting and knowledgeable folks in the industry, ecologists across this great nation, but especially my local prairie mentors and fellow Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society members, Dr. Charles M. Allen, Malcom F. Vidrine, Larry Allain, and a bunch of other regionally local folks who have spent many-a-day focused on restoring the prairies of Louisiana and Texas. You know who you are. Also, credit is due to the love of my life and partner-in-(ecological)crime, Candi Pastorek, the brains of the business.

This type of landscape construction and management provides an insurance policy of sorts for wildlife, for the future sustainability of species that are increasingly under pressure due to human activity(humans: we ain’t no good 😦 ). It also provides prototype models, mock-ups, that either prove or disprove different techniques for seed collecting, planting and managing the different variations of prairie and marsh habitat in our coastal environment. We at PH are doing our part to insure that future generations get to enjoy and appreciate the wealth of biodiversity that we have in our lifetime.

photo-49

above: last Sunday’s photo of the Marc Pastorek family, with five of the (currently) nine grandkids (if you include Monty the wonder-granddog). My two son’s brides(pictured on the couch), are due with an additional boy each, at the end of the year. Go team Pastorek!

Louisiana’s Cajun mountains

I had the most wonderful opportunity last Wednesday to meet up with Christopher Reid at one of the newly discovered Coastal Tall grass prairies located on private land in Calcasieu Parish. The prairie exists on an old and very large cattle farm operation stretching south from  the town of Vinton all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Chris is botanist for the State Natural Heritage Program. His job is finding, preserving and assisting in managing rare land and the vegetation that grows on it. Last summer, Chris and his fellow Wildlife and Fisheries staff members erected fenced-off study plots to exclude cattle from the vegetation within. This will, over time, give the vegetation a rest from grazing and should provide a unique opportunity to see what species return naturally. It was a really exciting and interesting visit for me considering that as far as we know yet, there are no longer any good and sizable examples of our native prairie preserved in Louisiana. This farm, like three others the State is working with, has the potential to be brought back to its former glorious self: a natural, diverse prairie complete with Pimple Mound formations. One of the most significant things I saw was the height of the pimple mounds (Mima mounds, Coppice dunes) that were scattered across the landscape. Mima mounds are naturally occurring circular raised areas of soil, laid down during the late Pleistocene era (that’s a long time ago, folks). The soils are really sandy, and it shows. Chris and I were finding plants that aren’t normally this close to the Gulf. They aren’t except on top of these mounds. These were high mounds all right, up to four feet tall or maybe a bit higher. Ones I had previously seen were just slightly raised areas a few inches or so high and several feet around. So dramatically different and the altitude of these so high, they were well worthy of being called Cajun mountains, especially considering the flatness of the land in this part of the state.

IMG_5213

above: Chris Reid on top of a nearly imperceptible Cajun mountain

All plants that were not on the mounds were indicative of a high moisture regime, meaning they showed the soils there were for the most part, very wet. Conspicuous was the Brownseed paspalum, Texas Coneflower, Hairy Fruited Hibiscus, Water Hemlock, and the other usual Cajun Prairie suspects.

IMG_5237

Hairy Fruited Hibiscus has lots of fuzz

IMG_5247

above: the foliage of the Carrot Family member, Hooker’s Eryngo IMG_5209

above: native Hairy Petunia Ruellia humulus tucked in with the obnoxious multiflora rose, an invasive exotic species that gets around via fruit-eating birds. Rosa multiflora is a hateful, thorny thing.

Up on the mountains were plants from way up in Vernon Parish, 100 miles north, where the soils are super-sandy. Who ever heard of Sassafras less than a mile from coastal fresh water marsh? The mima mounds have, thats who! This sand loving Sassafras stood out like a sore thumb. She was hanging out with her buddies Queen’s Delight, Wooly White, and a bunch of other highlanders, way up where the air is much thinner. And the view from atop the mountains? ….you could see for a hundred feet!

There were several odd-ball species found on the flats, too. White Topped Sedge, typically a Pine herbaceous species, was growing right there in the wet prairie soils, big as the sky. Hooker’s Eryngo was a new species for me. I am the biggest fan of Eryngium species in general, and seeing this in the wild was quite the treat. I got that same feeling I used to get as a kid when the ice cream truck music sounded through my old neighborhood. This species is not listed in the distribution book for that Parish, nor is it in the Floristic Assessment for Coastal Prairie. Nice! Also present and accounted for was Rough Leafed Goldenrod and the Antelope Horn and Longleaf Milkweeds.

IMG_5238

Rough Leafed Goldenrod

IMG_5219

Long Leaf Milkweed

Strangely and conspicuously absent was Switch grass and Gamma grass. Overgrazing, Chris suspected. I did find what I thought to be a small clump of Big Bluestem, which got him all excited. Its pretty easily id’d even at an early, infertile stage. He was glad to see it barely grazed outside the pens

IMG_5203

above: Chris took me in the direction of the gulf to look for a plant he had seen on an earlier trip. We hiked about a while to a Buffalo wallow area (a marias), where he collected a tiny grass-like plant (that I forget the name of) as a state record for Calcasieu Parish. Yip Yip!!

As we were done and leaving, we wheeled out of the farm property and onto the Parish road, where Chris slowed to show me Side Oats Gramma grass growing big as can be and thick as hair on a goat’s back. This was the catch of the day for me. I have only seen this a couple of times in Louisiana and seeing it a stone’s throw from the Gulf was both exciting and encouraging. Until now, I thought that growing this plant this close to the Gulf was not possible. It was a very hopeful end of the trip for me. I would like to one day be able to work with it more than I have. It has great ornamental and restoration potential. If I can, I’ll get a couple of handfuls of seed when they ripen perhaps, and see what comes of growing it.

bouteloua-curtipendula-sideoats-grama

Side Oats Gramma grass in flower, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana

ULL’s Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology offers Pure Native™prairie seed availability!

The CEET center, as its commonly called, is a research facility of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. One of the programs on line there is a native seed operation developed by the Director, Dr. Susan Mopper. Dr. Mopper and her colleagues have been hard at work for many years, producing seed for herbaceous planting projects in Acadiana and the surrounding region. The seed is collected from gardens that were established for research and for seed production.

This is exciting news since we need all of the seed producers of natives that the market can support, and more!

The Center offers seed and can contract-grow prairie plants, as well. They have, on site, a state-of-the-art greenhouse and the technical wherewithal to grow cool plants for cool projects.

Dr. Mopper is currently offering seed of 24 wildflowers and 9 grasses. This is really great news since I regularly get requests for individual seed but have found over the years that this is not practical nor profitable (at least it wasn’t for me). Now I have a place to send people to when I’m asked, instead of sending them out-of-state. yip!! Dr. Mopper also offers custom growing of wildflowers and grasses so you can request and accept delivery of some way-cool plants grown by the best, with local genetics. This is a really good thing.

Its very likely you’ll have mixed results with growing the seed since some local genetics have less than good germination while some have excellent germination. This is typical for Cajun Prairie seed. Actually, with this seed, we’ve found that some years seed is particularly viable and other years not so much. Germination of our local prairie ecotypes varies from species to species and from year to year. And don’t be a fool and throw out a seed tray after the first year. I’ve seen seed germinate and grow after the second winter, after it gets double dormancy requirements met. Some seed may take a year or two or more to germinate. Some, like Big Bluestem, will probably only produce 5% or less seedlings of the seed sown. But if you sow it out directly into the field, you may see like I did, that the eed is viable, it just needs the right circumstances to grow. As Charles Allen, Famous Prairie guru and third degree black belt in buffet says, “be patient, grasshopper”.

Careful though, with one of their species. One they refer to as Blue Mountain Mint. I have always heard it called Lowland Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum muticum. They probably shouldn’t sell this species or if they do, they should sell it with a written disclaimer, since if you get it started in your garden, it may not get stopped. Its a runner. A very aggressive plant. It’ll take the back forty if you let it so…beware. Now don’t get me wrong, this is a pollinator plant par excellence and is a fantastic nurse-plant for large prairie restorations, but I would consider this a bad weed in a garden situation. Anyone who has grown it would agree! However, all the other species are saweet!!

See descriptions of these and other super prairie plants in my old Meadowmakers catalog at this link. Gail Barton produced this 2007 catalog back when I thought selling individual species was going to make me some “monay”!!! whoot!

Um, boy I was wrong.     🙂

CEET site           http://ulecology.com/site53.php

my catalogue     https://marcpastorek.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/mmcatalog2007.pdf