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

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

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

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

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

But that didn’t stop me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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