for Piet’s sake!

The Prairie Inspired Garden

In 2010, I was able to make a much anticipated trip to New York, New York, for a family wedding event. Tops on my list of places to see while I was there of course was the High Line, the internationally famous public garden, said to be “the most Instagrammed place on Earth”.

The High Line is exactly that, an old abandoned elevated industrial rail line on Manhattan’s west side that runs along the Hudson piers. As the rail sat unused for about 30 years, a self-seeded prairie-like landscape developed and became the subject of a photographer Joel Sternfeld’s creative interests. He spent a year photographing the many parts of the line, capturing a collection of images that would later be used to sell the idea of transitioning the rail to a linear public park.

A cracker jack team of designers and horticulturists was assembled to further develop the idea, including the very capable Netherlands based planting designer Piet Oudolf – he was most instrumental in choosing plant approaches and plant lists. The result is a garden that’s a hybrid between a natural prairie garden the English border garden. Oudolf used native prairie grasses and perennial wildflowers but he included many many horticultural selections of native species, and also some species that are not native to the Americas. Even the non native species look at home amongst the prairie plant drifts. The planting lists for the gardens are long, and made up mostly of herbs and grasses, with some plantings of small trees and shrubs, and vines and bulbs.

The design emphasis of the High Line is on low input, drought tolerant species that save on resources, something to consider when your garden is a mile and a half long.

The design approach is rather simple, using mass plantings of species that contrast in color, texture, and form  – species that are tough and hold their own in the landscape. By using so many different species, the designers planned for an unfolding landscape, month to month, much like the continuous interest a natural area relict prairie would provide. The result is simplistic, but rather beautiful, any time of the year. The substance of the garden design and its overall horticultural appeal is significant. It is said that 5 million people visit the High Line each year.

I visited during the month of January so I saw the gardens at their weakest. I was still very much impressed with them. I could still identify most of the plants.

Mr. Oudolf is a much sought after garden designer famous for his work with grasses and perennials. He promotes the perennial plant garden and points out that winter-frosted perennials and grasses have character, too.

He has designed the High Line gardens to mimic the American prairie, with grasses as bones of the garden, the cloth that the garden color is woven into. The gardens are perfectly attractive to pollinator species including butterflies, skippers, dragonflies, native bees and wasps, honeybees, and so forth.

Speaking from my perspective, grasses are used much like the evergreen shrub is in an English border garden; as a back drop for color, as a contrasting element – a whispy feature that highlights and refracts light, enhances and contrasts colors and textures. Grasses come in many shapes, sizes, and textures, but grasses are colorful, too. Switch grass may not be just right for every garden but there is no denying this plant has a bold presence. It starts off as a medium textured foliage emerging in late spring, subtle and unassuming. By mid-summer, its knee high – dense and robust. By fall, it is chest high, mostly rounded in form, and starting to produce its fine textured seed panicles, which crown the tops of the foliage mass with a smokey-mist effect. When first frost comes, the green linear leaves turn a clear crisp tan color, a very dramatic change that carries through the winter. Four different cultivars of Switch grass are used in the High Line gardens. Little Bluestem grass, a shorter, more vertically inclined plant is used extensively through the plantings. It has a contrasting blue foliage in summer and turns a reddish-ochre color in winter. The very popular and extraordinarily stylish Calamagrostus X Karl Foerster is another among the 30 different grasses that are used in the project altogether. Over 150 species of perennials accompany the grasses.

The practicality in using grasses is their sheer ability to sustain themselves with little or no care. Plant them and pretty much forget about them, though they generally need cutting back in late winter just before the new growth starts, generally in April or May. Grasses enable you to have twice as much garden with half as much care. If you’re planting the right grasses, they will likely last longer than you will – they’ll out live you!

Not all grasses are created equally. Some ecotypes (regionally local genetic strains) do not adapt permanently and can decline and fade from the landscape over a few years time. Try to source seed collected locally so the plants are more able to survive in our unique Gulf-influenced environmental extremes. After all, its best to be successful the first time around – unless of course you like failure.

The prairie inspired garden is becoming more accepted in horticultural circles. With so many species adaptable to this idea, the design possibilities are practically limitless.

Common Prairie Plants for Gardening in Louisiana

GRASSES

Little Bluestem grass
Yellow Indian grass
Split Beard Bluestem grass
Elliot’s Bluestem
Elliot’s Indian grass
Narrow Leafed Bluestem
Sporobolus junceus
Dicanthelium sp
Panicum anceps
Love grass
Winter Bent grass
Toothache grass
Purple Silky Scale grass
Aristida purpurascens
Tridens flavus
Triden strictus
Triden ambiguus
Eastern Gamma grass
Big Bluestem grass
Bushy Bluestem grass

WILDFLOWERS (perennials)

Baptisa alba
Baptisia nuttalli
Baptisia spherocarpa
Baptisia bracteata
Coreopsis linifolia
Coreopsis pubescens
Coreopsis tripteris
Coreopsis rosea
Coreopsis lanceolata
Tephrosia onobrychoides
Monarda lindhiemeri
Monarda fistulosa
Monarda citriodora
Monarda punctata
Pycnanthemum tenuifolia
Pycnanthemum albescens
Silphium gracile
Silphium integrifolia
Silphium laciniata
Scuttellaria integrifolia
Eryngium yuccafolia
Eryngium integrifolium
Tradescantia virginicus
Penstemon digitalis
Penstemon laxiflorus
Sabatia gentianoides
Callirhoe papaver
Rudbeckia texana
Rudbeckia grandiflora
Rudbeckia hirta
Rudbeckia subtomentosa
Bigelowia virgata
Liatris squarrosa
Liatris squarrulosa
Liatris elegans
Liatris spicata
Liatris acidota
Liatris pycnostachya
Erigeron philedalphicus
Erigeron strigosus
Boltonia asteroides
Eupatorium hyssopifolium
Eupatorium serotinum
Euthamia leptocephala
Euthamia tenuifolia
Lobelia puberula
Erythrinia herbacea
Physostegia digitalis
Rhexia mariana
Pityopsis pilosa
Solidago odora
Solidago rugosa
Solidago tortifolia
Solidago nemoralis
Solidago sempervirens
Echinacea pallida
Echinacea purpurea
Helianthus mollis
Helianthus angustifolia
Euphorbia colorata
Salvia azurea
Barrens Silky Aster
Amsonia tabernaemontana
Asclepias lanceolata
Asclepias obovata
Asclepias incarnata
Asclepias longifolia
Asclepias perennis
Asclepias rubra
Asclepias syriaca
Asclepias variegata
Asclepias verticilata
Asclepias viridiflora
Asclepias Viridis
Asclepias tuberosa

Where to Visit Prairie Gardens in the U.S

University of Wisconsin Arboretum, Curtis Prairie, Madison, Ws.

North Carolina Botanical Garden, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.

Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University, Picayune, Ms.

Where to Visit Prairie Gardens in Louisiana

Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society, Eunice, La

Cajun Prairie Gardens, Eunice, La

Allen Acres B and B, Pitkin, La

St Landry Parish Visitor’s Center, Opelousas, La

Duralde Prairie Restoration, Duralde, La

Caroline Dorman Nature Preserve

LSU AgCenter Research and Gardens, Hammond, La

City of Mandeville Wildflower Conservation Area

City of Hammond – Chappapeela Park, Hammond, La

City of Monroe – Kiroli Park, Monroe, La

City of Covington – Blue Swamp Creek Nature Trail, Covington, La

Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology, University of Lafayette, Lafayette, La

Hamilton Hall, University of Lafayette, Lafayette, La

City Of New Iberia, Mr. Al (the Live Oak) Prairie, New Iberia, La

*the list provided is focused on Louisiana natives – consider other endemics native to your locale when developing your own garden lists – though many of the species listed here are generalists and not site specific

For more information on educational classes regarding native grasses and wildflower identification and culture, contact Dr. Charles M. Allen at native@camtel.net

 

* this article written for December issue of Louisiana State Horticulture Society

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cool lawn color from Oxalis at a New Orleans’ Lake Lawn funeral home

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raking seed, breaking ground, getting down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting the hay coverage just right

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Team Green!!

Seed Collection Window Closes

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

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

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

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

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

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Aster concolor, one of the last things to bloom

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

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cool, silvery white heads of Split-Beard Bluestem grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSUE PRAIRIE

click on the photo to see the LSUE prairie strip

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

general and advanced taxonomy classes / natives featured at Oct. Hammond event

 

For those wanting to learn more about native plants and natural things, several events are upcoming that might be of interest. Dr. Charles Allen, one of the leading experts on native plants in the southeastern U.S. is holding a series of four fall native plant identification workshops, starting with the first, general plant ID starting tomorrow, Tuesday the 15th, in the metropolis of Pitkin, Louisiana. These are intensive two day and a half day workshops intended as brain expanding exercises in natives. I will be taking the Asteracea / Fabacea class on October 30- Sept 1st. Cannot wait!!!!

Dr. Allen, who has literally written the books on natives. see the link

http://www.lnps.org/index_files/TripsandEvents.htm

Aslo worthy of a field trip is the Horticultural Field Day held on October 7th at the LSU Hammond Research Garden. Dr. Yan Chen and Dr. Allen Owings and others will be leading tours of their trial gardens once again. If you haven’t seen these gardens, and you make time to attend, I think you will agree that there is a lot to see and much to learn from a trip there, even if you can’t make it there that day. The gardens are open most every working day of the year. Bring your questions about you plants and gardens and meet these knowledgable folks.

Dr. Yan will be highlighting her work with native plants using local-sourced seed, which is really substantial and cutting-edge stuff! Go Tigers!

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local seed; its a natural

Collected lots of great seed from the farm yesterday. Dreamed of doing this when I was just a wannabee, back in the day. I planted giant gardens of Narrow-leafed Mountain Mint, Rough Coneflower, Spearmint scented White Mountain Mint (Malcolm Mint), Ashy Sunflower, Tall Tickseed, and copious amounts of Lindhiemer’s and Wild Bergamot Bee Balm all those years ago at the seed farm in Mississippi. It is such a treasure-pleasure to mechanically harvest from those seed fields. I hope in time that more folks do this sort of thing. That was the goal for me, not only to make a living from locally sourced native seed  produce on seed fields on my own land but also to provide a model for others to copy before I go to the big aster garden in the sky. It has worked so far. whoop-whoop!

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above, a bundle of White Leafed Mountain Mint, one that I named “Malcolm Mint” about 15 years ago, since Dr. Malcolm F. Vidrine, who I named it for, was the one to find it in the wild, propagate it, conserve it and pass it on. When I drive through my fields, and crush the Malcolm Mint plants with my tractor tires, the world fills with the heavenly sweet-scented aroma of Spearmint, a sensory delight, I must say.

 

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Similar in sensory over-load is the field of Frey Prairie genes that I planted back in 2000. Loaded with Sweet Goldenrod, one of our most useful and wonderfully scented herbs, Sweet Goldenrod, sometimes called Licorice Goldenrod is so amazing in that it transports your up onto a super-sweet scented cloud high above, when you step your feet across the field. Oh, high horticulture, how I love you! Frey Prairie is now fully extirpated; gone,  plowed under into a rice field. But my seed field has its genes, and all the texture, color, scent and diversity of what Frey once was. Its a gene-pool bank of sorts. in order to plant this field, I harvested the seed from Frey, the once, most-hallowed piece of ground. above, the golden yellow pyramidal heads of Sweet Goldenrod and the purply-pink square heads of Rough Button Blazing Star are complimentary, no doubt. Meadowmakers Seed Farm, Carriere, Pearl River County, Mississippi.

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Cool bean growing in the yard in Covington. It came in on its own only because I don’t mow much. This’n growing up the Agarista popufolia. A nice vine that the hummers and butterflies and I enjoy.

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Chuck Allen says this is a Strophostyles, above

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sweet video of me cleaning Geen Milkweed (below) that I roadside-rustled with Gail Barton last week. Sent my share off to entemologist Dr. Jovonn Hill at Mississippi State for a Balck Belt prairie pollinator planting project he’s doing. photos above are top left, clockwise, Green Milkweed in fruit, then in full seed, cleaned seed, and a massive plant that Gail and I were so impressed with. It was probably oder than she and I put together. It was a giant specimen with a bunch of seed, wrapped nicely on the highly flammable hair-like material that catches the wind and flies the seed off into the air. seed cleaning video uploaded onto my youtube channel.

KIDS! Try this at home!

Cardinal Rule

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speaking of locally native seed. a photo above of Cardinal Flower that occurred on its own in the yard this year, a great surprise, especially since I had bought in a few plants from a nurseryman, knowing they’d been shipped from a grower out of our region. Those bought plants were chewed incessantly by rabbits, so much that they are still nubbed to the ground all summer and still are. These plants, above, I found as seedlings while I was mowing one day this spring and kept the mower blades away from them. The rabbits don’t seem to want to try these. Yet. Maybe I’ll get some seed from them….

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Keep Covington Beautiful, KCB,is a group I have been working with for some time. They get stuff done, folks!

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KCB’s controlled burn result of the Blue Swamp Creek Nature Trail park is quite obvious. In the distance, see toasty Loblolly Pines, Tallow Trees and mixed vegetation. The fire opened up the landscape magically, removing several years of fuel that had built up, hiding the herb plants from the sun. In the foreground is the future Pitcher Plant flatwoods restoration area. The park is modeled after the North Carlolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the first Arboretum in the country that established a naturally designed and managed arboretum.

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above, sunlight and herbs are partners for biodiversity, on the ground at Blue Swamp Creek.

Permaculture in the Front Yard

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above, in the front yard of the Covington, Loosiana hacienda, my first logs of Shiitake mushrooms are ready for the skillet. I cut Gums out of my seed farm fields in January and plugged them with shitake spore-plugs. In a frying pan with butter and garlic, they are Yum-Yum!

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Granny says, “Vittles, Jethro!!”

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um, Probly not.

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last but not least, a vase of Candy Rain Lilly, Salvia and Sweet Coneflower for my sweetie, Sweetheart and wife, Candi, for the kitchen bar-counter. The amazing Sweet Coneflower, typically a plant found in wetter sites, was subjected two months of no rain, severe drought! and didn’t miss a beat when it came time to flower. That’s a drought with searing tempts that mostly reached 95 degrees every day, with at least one day at 104 degrees with a heat index of 120, yet it was happy as a clam in the ocean. Natives rock.

 

 

 

 

Butterflies like the Marias model

Special thanks, Rick Webb, for the help Monday, conducting the controlled burn at the City of Hammond’s  Chappapeela Park. It was a scorcher out there in more ways than one.  Also, thanks to the Chappapeela Recreation District Board of Directors and to Fire Chief Thompson, who overrode the code, and made an exception to the City ordinance outlawing controlled burns in the City limits. And thanks to Ken Bosso, of Baton Rouge, who shared photographs of Butterflies with me, taken on the foliage in the prairie gardens. They’re below.

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A tiny Butterfly called the Skipper, possibly a Fiery Skipper, on Botonia asteroides/ difusa, at the Park

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A Viceroy on a Tallow sapling

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A Pearl Crescent

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A Fiery Skipper on a False Indigo plant

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above, a photo of the pond slope during the time it was handed to me for restoration, July 2012. The soil was mineral soil/ sub-soil clay, dug from the pond area. No amendments were used and our seed loved it!

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This photo above, taken during preparation of the site in 2012, when herbicide was used to eradicate weeds and simplify life for the more specialized prairie plants. Its a permanent fix, forever; with biodiversity instead of mowed turf grass.

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an interpretive sign along the walkway surrounding the planting describing the changes of the prairie during the four seasons; the timing of the burn. If you look closely, you’ll see there’s a White Egret at the water’s edge, just above the sign. click on the photo to enlarge. It stayed there the six hours I was at the Park, working the edge for fish and critters. And it was there still working when I left for home.

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above, the contrasting foliage of Little Bluestem grass on left and Yellow False Indigo on right.

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this is before the burn….

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and… immediately after the burn…

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…three days after the burn

I will go through and volunteer some time to cut back the Willow trees and a few of the Drummond Maples in a week or two, to let the sun shine in.

Most plants at the water edge and the walkway edge weren’t effected by the fire since most of the fuel is on the interior of the planting strip. We did the burn in June only because we had to, for the sake of LSU’s experimental research plots embedded in the garden. There are thirty one meter square plots. Students under the direction of Dr. William Platt, have collected data on species present and then designed and executed their own experiments, and then written papers on the results of their work.

Conducting controlled burns this time of year is historically appropriate, since most fires in prehistoric times occurred in May and June. This timing also happens to damage woody plants more severely than winter burns do. Woody plants being vulverable when they have fully leafed out. They encroach and shade out the prairie. The fire is a natural disturbance the the prairie is adapted to, important for encouraging flowering and seed production by the pyrogenic wildflowers and grasses that make up the prairie landscape.

In a month, you won’t be able to tell that a burn occurred. It will be all green again and the most conservative plants will benefit greatly.

Below are some photos of cool plants before the burn.

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lovely Pluchea

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Coral Bean pods

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Hibiscus, Rose Mallow/ seed from Dr. Mac Vidrine’s Eunice garden

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Marsh Flatsedge (left), and Coastal Hibiscus  at water’s edge

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the blue of Little Bluestem grass and the purple of Pluchea

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Native Cajun Prairie Buffalo wallow, a remnant of the Great Southwestern Louisiana Prairie, in Camaron Parish. This depicts water edge prairie vegetation at what the Cajuns call a Marais, a unique natural feature in the Coastal Tallgrass Prairie ridge and swail landscape.

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done the deed.

Next!!!

long week, long post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One of the targets Thursday was Baptisia bracteata

Prairie-marsh Ranch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gotta handful of Side Oats Gramma seed for propagation.

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gotter done, dug some.

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

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

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

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

Mac’s Garden, a quick visit

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

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

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Asclepias verticilata in full flower, in the Vidrine nursery.

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

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

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

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

reach at Malcolm –  malcolmvidrine@yahoo.com

Keeper of the Flame

If you’ve ever been to Kisatchie National Forest, the Vernon District, you probably have a good idea of what the natural Pine landscape in Louisiana and the Gulf Coastal Plain looked like a hundred years ago, minus some big trees and Buffalo. If you haven’t seen Kisatchie before, pack up tomorrow morning and get an early start to the 25th Annual Bogs and Birds Brown Bag event with Dr Baygall, himself, Charles M Allen. Dr. Allen has attended and or hosted this event for 25 years. He is known as one of the leading authorities on Pine Baygalls and Bogs. He is an amazingly kind botany field trip leader and he has a catalog of great jokes about plants. What could be better!? Seeing cool orchids and lush pine prairie landscapes, shaded white-sand creeks. ah Lou’siana! see the link for more on this very fun and informative event hosted in the great outdoors- in the open beauty of the fire-touched pine lands of west-central Louisiana. Hope to see you all there…

see cool details of this brilliant guy’s creative mind in “events” below

http://www.lnps.org/newsletter2/LNPS%20Summer%202014%20newsletter.pdf

totally artificial, but perfectly natural!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charles’ description of the design.

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

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

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

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

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Bluebonnet Swamp is delightfully sublime.

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Cypress knees

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

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

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above, “the falls”  at Clark Creek.

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

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adios amigos!

 

 

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!!!!!

 

 

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

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

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

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Pineland Milkweed, Asclepias obovata

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

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

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

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

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

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wetness….

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Wrapup Points:

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

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

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

 

MALCOM’S METHOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

General notes:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Hammond Garden Camellia Stroll set/ burn at Eunice prairie successfully conducted by Society members!

After about two weeks of worrying with it, we successfully executed reguvenating controlled burns yesterday at the main 10 acre Eunice prairie restoration site and also, at the Cajun Prairie Society’s two and a half acre whippersnapper-prairie just across the railroad tracks, to the north. Both took an hour a piece to accomplish. Fun and entertainment was had by all.

It was a beautiful cloudless sky to work under, with smoke-lifting atmospheric conditions that were perfect for a safe burn within the City of Eunice corp limit. We had the Eunice Fire Department on hand for the celebratory event. They had our backs.

It was all over before we knew it.

Lots of preparation goes into this sort of thing. Thanks to all who helped. Couldn’t have done it without the CPHPS Fire Bugs!

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prescription, certified and notorized!

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Brian Early was chief drip-torch dude on the western and northern flank. We pushed the fire against the wind for a solid-as-a-rock back-burn.

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it was toasty out there, folks!

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stylin’ Jackie Duncan, the Toastess with the Mostest, brought home “best-dressed” award 🙂  Jackie’s accompanied by the Cajun Prairie pioneer Dr. Malcolm Vidrine and assistants, Steve Nevitt, Jake Delahoussey, and Brian Sean Early

Looking forward to seeing the old Camellia grove at the Hammond Research Station gardens on February 22. These are plantings that are said to be from the 30’s through the 50’s. My friend Dr. Charles Allen is making the trip to visit and I plan to tag along. It should be a fun and informative event with hard-to-find camellias for sale. C’mon, ya’ll!

hope to see you there.  here’s a link to the info page on the Camellia Stroll

http://www.lsuagcenter.com/news_archive/2015/January/headline_news/Camellia-stroll-set-for-Feb-22-in-Hammond-.htm