Covington Mayor okays Blue Swamp Nature Park conservation, restoration

Covington Mayor Mike Cooper took time to sit down with landscape architects Priscilla Floca, John Mayronne, and myself, Thursday, to talk about the Blue Swamp Creek Nature Trail. When we were done, the Mayor had signed off on all of our conservation and restoration plans, complete with permission to use fire for managing the fine fuel areas. This is how it should be, folks.  🙂    Mayor Mike “Cooperative” Cooper!!!

John and Priscilla, and all of the other people who work as volunteers for the group, Keep Covington Beautiful, have done a masterful job developing the park with a very light hand and a very light budget. Its just natural areas with walking trails; an interpretive garden of about three or four acres.

We layed out our goals and talked to the Mayor about the progress that’s been made so far. He asked for more details and promised to back all of our efforts 100%. Yee-ha!!

The Nature Trail was established in what was left from the design and construction of the baseball fields on that land some years ago. The forest areas are made up of an existing early to mid-succession tree canopy with a surprisingly nice collection of late succession wildflowers and native grasses as an understory. Fire will certainly do some good here. There are some wooded areas that will be permanently managed as an unburned, forested landscape. In the tree cover, there are a couple of small openings where some bog species have had enough sunlight to hold on. They’ll benefit from fire as well.

Blue

Blue Swamp Creek, located just west of the intersection of highway 190 and highway 25, Covington, Louisiana

 

 

covingyon park

 

Philip Drive, off of 190, leads to the Recreation Park

blue creek 2

 

a white-blocked-image shows the to-be-burned areas. We’ll do the controlled burn in the next few weeks, with the help of some volunteers and certified burn folks. It’ll be hot, hot with knee high, leaping flames! 🙂

The fire will bring out the best of the vegetation and we’ll see what we have in the way of species diversity and species richness this coming summer.

Eventually we’ll do some seeding and hopefully some transplanting, through organized plant rescues, in one area that had been dozed into a stormwater retention area.

photo-53

a rendering of the existing forest trails in green and in yellow are the fire-generated pine prairie areas. (rendering by landscape architect Greg Trahan from last summer)

Go micro-prairies!!!

 

 

 

 

Louisiana’s Cajun mountains

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

IMG_5213

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

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

IMG_5237

Hairy Fruited Hibiscus has lots of fuzz

IMG_5247

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

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

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

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

IMG_5238

Rough Leafed Goldenrod

IMG_5219

Long Leaf Milkweed

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

IMG_5203

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

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

bouteloua-curtipendula-sideoats-grama

Side Oats Gramma grass in flower, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Um, boy I was wrong.     🙂

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

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