very good story, on E.O. Wilson, please enjoy. Thank you, Bruno Borsari, for sharing it with me! and thank you PBS!
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Chuck Allen says this is a Strophostyles, above
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!
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….
Keep Covington Beautiful, KCB,is a group I have been working with for some time. They get stuff done, folks!
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.
above, sunlight and herbs are partners for biodiversity, on the ground at Blue Swamp Creek.
Permaculture in the Front Yard
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!
Granny says, “Vittles, Jethro!!”
um, Probly not.
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.
Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University event!
This Saturday July 11 is the day of the annual Aquatic plant sale (and gardening talks) at Crosby Arboretum, in Picayune, Mississippi. The Arbo has been doing this sale for many years and the staff works hard to propagate and find, cool plants to offer for sale for your water garden. I will be leading a field walk along the “pond journey” at 10:00, discussing the delights of having marginal aquatic plants in the garden and how to grow many of those we see from scratch.
Eileen Hollander, of the Greater New Orleans Iris Society will talk about propagation of the endemic, treasured Louisiana Iris at 11:00.
February Prairie Gardening-Restoration Conference in Louisiana
I was asked by Bud Willis, the president of the La. Native Plant Society to help put together an education program focused on prairie gardening and restoration. With the help of Charles Allen, Beth Irwin and Rick Webb, I have succeeded in doing that, I think.
We have put together a single day of prairie presentations by seven of the most knowledgeable folks I know. Mark your calendars, Feb 5-7th, 2016 in the Alexandria, La. area.
Beth Irwin will speak about her work with her prairie gardens at Kalorama Nature Preserve and with Rector Hopgood’s amazing prairie in Mer Rouge Louisiana.
Charles Allen will speak on prairie dynamics natural succession
Malcolm Vidrine will speak of his work with building prairie gardens and will touch on prairie ecology.
Tree hugger and dirt lover Jim Foret (University of La, Lafayette) will speak of his home prairie garden.
Jessie Johnson will speak of her prairie gardens at Caroline Dorman’s Briarwood Nature Preserve.
Larry Allain of the National Wetlands Center will speak on prairie restorations he’s worked with and maybe share some insights into his many years of study of prairie pollinators.
Jim Willis of Cat Spring, Texas , co-founder of the Wildlife Habitat Federation (WHF), is a prairie gunslinger like no other. He has helped re-establish over 40,000 acres of prairie by way of his wonderful work with the WHF. Jim is a master of the farm implement when it comes to building grasslands.
Bring your questions. You’ll most likely get them answered at the conf. See the article from the Houston Chronicle on Jim and the WHF, below. how lucky we are to have him visit with us from so far away.
It should be a great day with lots of information shared.
Cucumbers with Character
On to horticulture in the garden…..
I have been working like a Turk over the years, trying to bring in a cucumber crop on a steady basis through the summer. Around here, you can grow cukes from April to November and you should. I try to put in a new crop every couple of weeks or once a month at least. This insures a steady stream of them. I’m on my fifth crop right now. Just planted seed yesterday.
I can’t stand a store bought cucumber. They are pretty to look at but not so good to eat. yuk!
Grow your own. Its so darned easy.
Okay, sometimes things go horribly wrong but heck, that’s farmin’, folks.
Its when they go right that matters and if you do a crop each month, you’re gonna enjoy reaping the benefits of your work. Go organic, dude. Yee who tries sometimes succeeds.
My planting yesterday of cukes. Last week I took a shovel and turned the soil in this spot. came back yesterday and turned again, opened a slight linear trench with my shovel head, and sowed seed. I stepped on the seed to press them into the ground, and then barely covered them by busting a few clumps of soil with my hands over the seed trench. Then I stepped on the trench again to double up on soil-seed contact.
a garden planted June 15th with a row of squash in the back and two rows of cukes in the foreground, left. I built two simple structures out of scraps for the vines to climb onto.
this is the same garden yesterday. I build leaning trellises so the cukes hang away from foliage and are easier to find.
I love to mulch with cardboard. these were planted a couple of weeks ago, just tied up yesterday, onto the cross-rope with little strings. I use the same technique of stringing that I learned at the tomato farm where I worked when I was just a whippersnapper. Tie the string in a boland knot so it doesnt sinch down and strangle the stem and then go up to the cross-rope and tie off. Each week, I assist the vines up the string by wrapping the vine around the string, just like at my old friend Lee Smith’s farm! Cardboard is so cool to work with, and its like, free! You can see the old cardboard (behind, in white) from last year, still suppressing weeds. Working overtime!
looking north, Monty the Labradorian prairie dog chillin’ next to the Cucurbitaceae patch. On the left going up my hog-panel dragon sculpture is the wild and crazy Cucuzza squash vine, just getting started. In the center of the image is my heirloom White Chayote vine, down here we call the Merletons (we say it Millitons). French, I guess. I got this from friend, Bonnie Bordelon. Thanks Bonnie!
You can see in the foreground here, my mulch job with all the recycled paper I collected from our office last week. saweet!!!
Verbena-on-a-Stick, Verbena bonariensis, great plant for nectaring Lepidoptera
Most garden folks know the common weed Verbena Braziliensis. Its a weed you can find all over the Gulf Coast; not so pretty, but a Butterfly magnet. Most folks don’t know V. bonariensis, a bad-ass plant for garden color with a long, long bloom time and an ability like few, to attract so many kinds of Skippers and Butterflies, flies, wasps, bees and such. Real nice.
I grew about 250 of these last year from seed. Spent ten bucks and ended up with lots of plugs, which I planted and gave away. I used to grow this years ago just for the flowering but I would say it is a solid 10 when it comes to pollinator attraction. It didn’t like it in the areas I burned but it loves to grow, most places that are sunny. Its not a stellar perennial but if you plant several they will hang on for some time; years. I found a stand of this plant with Charles Allen once in Newton County Texas at an old home site where the home was gone and the soil sandy and that is likely why it persisted so many years. Howabout dat.
I know you have been waiting to see my life-size carboard cut-out Blue Hawaii Elvis so I placed him, for scale, in front of the Verbena bonariensis in the garden. Thank you ver’ much.
I posted a youtube vid with the Gulf Fritillary that was hangin’ out at the garden yesterday. There were lots of different Skipper Butterflies working the flowers.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
They rested there for a while, like they were best-buds.
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.
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.
Just down a mile or so is a mile-long strip of a Pale Coneflower in the powerline.
Pale Coneflower in Pink and Woodland Blanketflower, Gaillardia aestivalus, are worthy beauties.
check out the Red Cow Ant I found while shuffling for seed.
One of the targets Thursday was Baptisia bracteata
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!!!!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The blue grey foliage of Hibiscus lasiocarpus is striking, not to mention the flars.
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.
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.
Gotta handful of Side Oats Gramma seed for propagation.
gotter done, dug some.
all watered down, the Side Oats plants covered up and ready for the ride east. gitty-up.
At home, I gathered up some old cups to pot up the Side Oats plants with.
The Side Oats, all done potting up into quart-sized containers, with a proper haircut.
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
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.
A rather large Spiral Orchid, with a three year old clump of Red Milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, in the background.
Asclepias verticilata in full flower, in the Vidrine nursery.
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.
This is Dr. Vidrine’s first-year Milkweed nursery. Lots of new seedlings of five different species.
I should have taken my goofy hat off first. Me, Odille, and Maureen Vidrine at Cajun Prairie Gardens.
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 – email@example.com
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.
Pineland Milkweed, Asclepias obovata
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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?.
- 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??
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Store the seeds in a cool, dry place until February.
- 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.
- 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.
- Seeds germinate in a week—really germinate—hundreds of them. Allow them to grow out a second pair of leaves—usually 2 weeks.
- 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.
- 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.
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).
Monty the Wonderdog, captured in digital form, on his way to the seed farm in Mississippi the other day. Monty likes fetching sticks and smelling-out deer and other wild critters in the native grass fields. Most of all, though, he likes to stick his head out of the window to get a sense of the neighborhoods along the route. That’s what he’s best at, plus the fact that he’s a certified therapy dog and all. He’s not an amateur dog, he’s a professional! He was pleased with the day overall, he said. (click on the pic and see him up close. He’s funny.)
I just got the notice for details for speakers for the Hilltop Arboretum’s winter Symposium and what a great line-up it is. I will, of course, be speaking on grass landscapes (duh) for the home garden and the urban environment. The symposium is geared to gardens and garden plants rather than ecological landscapes. It sounds like it will be a fun time with a speaker’s get-together the night before, so I’ll be able to catch up with a few folks I haven’t seen in many years and some I’ve never met. here is the link to the Hilltop Symposium announcement. There’ll be more info coming soon, I’m sure.
Yesterday, Doug Reed was in Baton Rouge to discuss the new prairie natural area being designed for the Hilltop Arboretum. Doug is an nationally recognized landscape designer, an LSU grad, principal partner in the firm Reed-Hilderbrand, LLC, of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Doug and I collaborated 3 years ago on the initial design phase of the Hilltop prairie when it was just an idea and we worked together on the super-sleek Repentance Park project in Baton Rouge shortly after that. I hear that I will likely be involved in the final horticultural details and if I get lucky, provide the seed for the actual plantings once the construction of the prairie meadows begin. I was invited to be present at Doug’s presentation to the Hilltop board of directors but am too busy with planting right now to pick my head up. Gotta make hay while the sun shines. Peggy Davis, the Director at Hilltop, organized a field trip to Crosby Arboretum and to my seed farm last summer to get a hands-on feel for what a real restored prairie is. A bus load of people connected to Hilltop visited and walked the Meadowmakers prairie paths. They must have liked what they saw since the project to create real biodiversity via constructed natural areas of meadows is still on! whoot!
Once completed, this planting will provide an outdoor classroom and research area for landscape design and biology students right in the heart of Baton Rouge.
The City of Mandeville’s wildflower conservation planting has been completed as of last Friday. I met with the very capable Herb Piller, a landscape designer with Louisiana Department of Transportation that day. He was interested in the planting process and took a few photos, asked a few questions.
above, top: the western most planting in Mandeville at the intersection of Highway 190 and Causeway Approach Rd, and below that, the eastern most planting. All complete and ready for seed to stratify! I will be managing these gardens for two years as part of the installation contract. Really nice Long Leaf pines from Louisiana Growers! go Rick!
The burn team got together and did some controlled burning at the seed farm in Mississippi yesterday. It was perfect conditions for a wild fire and thanks to our dedicated volunteers, we got two major sections done without burning the neighborhood down. These were two areas, about four acres altogether, with two years of fuel built-up and the humidity was really high with lots of grass present so we had some really spectacular visuals and adrenaline rushes from the leaping, flaming vegetation. Lots of poppin’ and crackin’ in the low, wet areas between the hill slopes. It was quite the event, ya’ll (don’t try this at home kids)!
above: My good friend Jim McGee uses the awesome-Terry-Johnson-devised/ Terry Johnson-built, Kabota-mounted, PTO-powered spray rig, to douse the flames as they work into the fire lines at the Meadowmakers seed farm and genetic preserve, Carriere, Mississippi, December 10, 2014. Terry is a old-time good friend, who grew up on a farm in Iowa. He is a farm-taught mechanical engineer who can build and fix anything. He and Jim both have a heart of gold.
a good burn was had by all, ya’ll 🙂
Rosin Weeds are not weeds at all. They are really fine ornamental herbs that provide for substantial wildlife activity and add lots of pizzaz to a garden. Silphiums are some of the more shining, luminous jewels you can incorporated into your prairie-meadow if you’ve got one. Several Silphium species are native to our region and all are easily grown, adaptable, dependable, and extremely persistent garden plants. That is, if you can find them in the nursery trade available for purchase or …if can get some seed. Most all of mine were originally grown from seed.
Silphiums are no minor player when it comes to garden boldness. My friend Gail calls them “tall boys”, and puts them in the same category as Joe Pye Weed, Iron Weed and Big Bluestem. All are adaptable, long to establish but long-lived, and permanent plants that almost never need care.
They’re exquisitely beautiful organisms. Excellent garden plants, no doubt. They have a huge capacity in the landscape for specialized ecological function. They feed good-weird bugs and stuff (they’re highly attractive to butterflies and other very specialized pollinators, y’all).
I’ve heard some of my northern gardener-friends say that they are weedy, but I have not had that kind of luck yet. In the fifteen years or more I’ve grown Silphiums, I have never had enough show up via re-seeding and they have rarely become prolific in a planting, only somewhat, maybe. But they seem to be more than prolific above the Mason-Dixon line. Dumb luck, I guess.
Rosinweeds are for royalty. They are for refined gardens and wildscapes, too! They are horticultural clout. Vertical botanical bling! Some of Europe’s most visited gardens have American Silphiums in them. The Brits Dunnett and Hitchmough use them in their famous wildflower work. And where we live they are tame, yet seductive.
Most Silphiums grow as large-leaved herbaceous plants, big leafy rosettes with tall terminal stalks laden up-top with big butter-yellow ‘ray and disk’ flowers. In the best conditions, during the best year for rain, the tallest ones, the Compass Plant and Prairie Dock, both can grow flower stalks to eight or ten feet tall.
Who wants an eight foot tall herb in their garden? Me, that’s who!!!!
above: a single flower of Will Fleming’s awesome “curly leafed” Rosin Weed, almost five inches across. not too shabby.
Actually, Rosinweeds are just foliage clumps in the landscape for months in the spring and early summer until the plant prepares to bloom, sending stalks skyward. The photo above,(click it to enlarge it) taken by Jovonn Hill, of the Pulliam prairie landscape in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, with Prairie Dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum, just emerging in April, after a controlled burn. Cool thing is you can see right through the stalks of Silphiums when they bloom, like, the stalks almost become invisible.
Here are the Silphiums I have grown for some years now, in my gardens.
above: Silphium laciniata, the Compass Plant, emerging after burn in spring in the Covington garden. 🙂
Compass Plant in flower and fruit, Eunice, Louisiana
Gail and UWA student Colton stand amongst hundreds of ancient Compass Plants at the oh-so-amazing Epes, Alabama chalk glade.
above: seedling of Compass Plant from hand-harvest seed from Epes, growing at the Black Belt Prairie Garden, University of Western Alabama, Livingston, Alabama, May, 2014.
link to cool photos of Compass plant
S. gracile or Slender Rosin Weed’s distribution range, above, a plant found both in Pine forests and Prairies in Louisiana. Lush rosettes, entire leaves, high-oil seed makes for an excellent wildlife plant. Gracile is a real southerner with a red-neck attitude, often kind of slouchy and grinning. No, really, its a very plant with a good attitude. Niche Gardens, a specialty native plant nursery in Chapel Hill, N.C offers this species for sale.
S. simpsonii, Simpson’s or Tall Rosin Weed is a non-Louisiana Native given to me by Texan nurseryman Peter Loos in the mid 1990’s. Good-naturalizing, adaptable, seed excellent for wildlife. Looks very similar to gracile.
early growth of Silphium simpsoni, above
S. integrifolium, Prairie Rosin Weed, is found associated with inland prairies of Louisiana and the Jackson Belt prairies of Mississippi. Its a Rosin Weed with conspicuous leaf arrangement. A vertically attractive course-textured plant.
above: the burly-tough rigid stem and leaves of Silphium integrifolium
above, Silphium integrifolia in full-glory, Harrell Prairie Botanical Area, Bienville National Forest, Scott County, Mississippi
S. terebinthinaceum, Prairie Rosin Weed (above), is not found naturally occurring in Louisiana and is only found in one county in Mississippi and one in Alabama. Its at the southern end of its range here in the GS. The largest leafed Silphium, by far. Awesome. Tony Avant of Plant Delights nursery in Chapel Hill grows and offers it for sale. Mine hasn’t bloomed yet and it is at least five years old but the leaves are very large and showy without flowers. It may have a lot to do with the seed coming from clay-specific soils to acid soils here in Covington, duh.
above: S. perfoliatum, The Cup Plant, is an uncommon plant in Louisiana, with records in only one Parish. More commonly found in much of the eastern U.S (minus Texas), this guy has the distinction of forming “cups”, where water collects where the ‘perforated’ leaves join the stem. Bold and strongly structural architecture.
S. asteriscus, Starry Rosin Weed, is one I have only grown for four or five years now. It seems to be very floriferous and a bit shorter than most other species.
Silphium (origin, Will Fleming) is a curly margined form of a yet-unidentified (um, I forget) species with a distinctive leaf form. I’ve grown this plant for five or so years. A worthy ornamental.
Propagation of these species is fairly easy if you have some good, viable seed. Just sow the seed in a good soil mix and barely cover the seed, enough to keep it moist. Germination will come pretty quickly unless its the dead of winter. Field grown Silphium seed is a horse of a different color. Seed I sowed of laciniata, in 1998 and 99 didn’t show up for several years, being out-competed and beat-up by unwanted competition. So eliminate competition in the field before sowing and maybe save yourself some years of waiting and wondering.
actual flowers of Silphium
after flowering, seed setting
The oily seed of Silphium is covered by a wafer-like coating
Get down, get tall, get Silphium, and get with it, folks!!!!
the link below is the short version of the Flora of Pulliam Prairie paper.
In the Parish of Tangipahoa, there aren’t big cities. Its small town, mostly: country folks and Pine trees.
Its a beautifully green Parish with fresh-water marsh on the southern end at Lake Ponchartrain and the rest is mostly whispering pine flats, rolling hills, and the shaded bottomland of its waterways. The greenest spot in all of the the Parish though, may be the Hammond Horticultural Research Station, just 5 minutes north of Interstate-12.
Tangi is part of what the locals still call the Florida Parishes. Map circa 1767
The LSU AgCenter has an extensive collection of ornamental trial gardens here, along with numerous research and experimental/trial gardens. It used to be an experiment station for truck crops but the focus these days is on ornamental horticulture. On my first visit to the Station, I had a great meeting with Dr. Yan Chen, Dr. Allen Owings and hort technician Gina Hebert. I was there to discuss with them their interest in adding native grasses and wildflowers to the gardens. Since then, they have taken a keen interest in natives and I have taken a keen interest in their beautifully maintained gardens. (click on the photos to enlarge)
above: many acres of “island” gardens exist for your enjoyment, at the Southeast Louisiana Research Station
Dr. Owings and Dr. Chen have begun the process of designing new demonstration gardens, where they will trial the usefulness of some of the states best high conservatism native perennials. I have made it my focus lately to collect the rarest and best seeds for them. They’ve begun propagation some and will continue through the winter and spring. At some point early next summer, we’ll possibly get together and dig root divisions of different species and cultivars of native grasses from my seed fields in Mississippi so that they can “grow them out”, in their ultra-sleek nursery facility. We have some time to prepare garden beds and meadow areas since the majority of plantings will be made in November of 2014. In the meadow areas, weed competition will be eradicated by repeated treatments prior to planting and this leaves lots of time to produce enough plants to fill the gardens when the time comes to plant.
If you get a chance, you should visit one day. It may be the north-shore’s best-kept secret.
This week on Thursday is an open house-field day event which should be fun and entertaining with plenty of folks to network and talk about plants with. A visit then will be especially good since we just got our first taste of dry, fall weather!
All across the several-acre Station site, you’ll find gardens with many combinations of color and form and textures: ones that will delight your eyes. A wonderful collection of native trees has been established over the years by Dr. Paul Orr, and of course there’s the Margie Jenkins Azalea collection garden which is full many significant plants. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I hadn’t been here before my recent comings and goings but I guess it was about time I had arrived. I hope to see you there Thursday!
click photo to enlarge.
In the sleepy town of Meaux, Louisiana is a farm that has been in the family for generations: eight generations, to be exact. The Blanchet’s ( pronounced Blonshet) have toiled the soil here for a long time, so long that the oldest house on property was constructed by hand and with walls insulated with a technique using Spanish moss and mud (called bousillage). That’s old, folks!
The farm is in the heart of Acadiana, just north from Abbeville, a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico, where Tall grass prairie once reigned over miles and miles of treeless land. This area of the state was referred to as the Great Southeastern Prairie of Louisiana. Nice name, huh?
The Blanchet’s run a cattle farm on the land today. Its a farm worked by the family using an environmentally friendly approach. After all, they have to live up to their company motto, “It’s Only Natural”.
They’ve been in the process of going chemical-free and that’s why they called me. They know that native prairie is the answer to high maintenance exotic forage grasses and the chemical fertilizers and insecticides they require to grow.
They wanted a specific request. They wanted diverse native prairie but wanted it to be a planting heavy on the four biggest prairie grasses: switch, gamma, big bluestem and indian.
So we got busy.
Coordinating with the partners in the project, a plan was devised and the production of grass plants started. The idea was to plant nursery-grown plants of these species and then sow a diverse mix of Coastal Prairie seed that will grow to help build resilience into the planting from pressure from grazing. It is a good model, the blending of prairie and grazing livestock. The Bison once used the vast grasslands for grazing and studies show that the combination of fire and patch grazing on diverse prairie can actually benefit biodiversity within the stand.
At this point were are closing in on completing fifteen acres, with 35 more to do.
We started by collecting divisions of the plants from as many Cajun Prairie eco-types as possible. Eco-types are mature plants that are individual, unique seedlings that have matured. These grasses grow in large masses and sections were painstakingly dug and then delivered to the nursery to be divided and potted into one gallon nursery containers. As much soil on the roots of the grasses as possible was kept to attempt to keep beneficial fungi and seedlings of other prairie plants alive in the interim period, in the nursery. At the same time seed was being sown of indian grass, again for the purpose of achieving a high level of seedling / genetic diversity.
These plants were planted in the field over two successive springs (2012 and 2013). Along with that, an area was designated to sow seed to establish a few acres of mono-culture stands of switch and gamma grass in the field using a conventional seed drill with seed bought from the LaCassinne Company, a land mitigation bank that processes and sells pure live seed of switch, gamma and brownseed paspalum (Hayes, Louisiana).
Steps were taken to prepare the field prior to planting and then in November of 2011, the drilling was done. In April of 2012 and 2013 the nursery grown plants were planted in and all of the plantings have done marvelously, thank you, rain!
We will use a controlled burn as a preparatory step to plant and then seed will be there to grow and move around on its own accord, as it does naturally. Annual burns will be done for several years to establish the field and then they’ll probably lengthen the cycle to two or three years to experiment with what works best for them. We’ll begin work on another section perhaps, sometime after we’re done with this section but even if we don’t do anything, the prairie will spread to the other sections, in a matter of time.
this aerial shows the entire 50 acre field, a rectangle to the left of the “coullee”, the drainage ditch represented by the green arc of trees). if you click on the photo you can see that the center of the rectangle has another rectangle within it. This is the planted field. you can make out the wetter areas which are in green. the linear, line-like objects are shallow cuts for drainage in what is flat ground and heavy soil. The field is fenced with electric fencing to keep livestock from grazing it.
The Blanchets raise goats and use them to help manage exotic trees like Tallow (Sapium sibiferum) instead of using herbicides. Goats eat anything where as cows are sometimes picky eaters.
The Blanchet Family: Ben, Cat, Anne and Bob and their tennants
one of a few loads of plants grown by Rick Webb, of Louisiana Growers
switchgrass ready for the planting hole. Good job Rick!!! Dr. Susan Mopper, director at The Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette helped us with some of the growing of nursery grown grass plugs from seed, too. Go Team Prairie!!!!!!
Andy Dolan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Private Lands Coordinator, a friend and colleague, consulted with me this past week at the site and was pleased with the progress he saw and advised on our strategy for seed planting. Here’s Andy with an Indian grass plant just starting to bloom.
This is what we all hope will transpire in a short time. These are Big Bluestem grass plants, three years old planted at Dr. Malcolm Vidrine’s Cajun Prairie Gardens, Eunice, Louisiana. Dr. Vidrine has an extensive collection of Big Bluestem eco-types of various colors and forms in the gardens. You can imaging the difference in biomass between this plant and say Bermuda grass. And the nutritional and palatability value of Big Bluestem is off the charts and it is peaking in growth in late summer and fall when exotics are declining and worn out. photo by Malcolm Vidrine
The diverse seed mix will partially come from this field, the Cajun Prairie restoration site in Eunice. Between the Big Bluestem and the Blazing Stars it should make for some happy and fat and sassy cows. Dr. Charles Allen, photo by Tom Hillman
above: Stuart Gardener examines emerging Gamma grass. The Blanchets sponsored a discovery trip for Stuart and I to go visit Gary Fine in Thibodaux, Louisiana to see what he was doing with native grasses and to see how his work was useful to our project. I was like a kid in a candy store seeing Gary’s cool fields. This was in March 2012. Stuart assisted us with his valuable knowledge of establishing native grasses in Blanchet’s pastures. He is the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Area Range Conservationist for Louisiana. Dr. Fine is a retired prairie master, I believe, a plant breeder, and is continuing his work in retirement at the Nichols Farm.
Dr Gary Fine and his oh-so-fine fields
for a really helpful and well done booklet by University of Tennessee, Knoxville on planting warm season grasses for forage see this link or get a hard copy. I use it as a reference often.
for more on the Blanchets and their prized beef sales see their website
and go plant some grasses!