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.

 

 

 

 

Mac Vidrine speaks/ and 6 thoughts on I-55 for MS and LA DOT

See below, an hour long presentation by one of my major mentors, Dr. Malcolm F. Vidrine, biologist-naturalist-prairie ecologist. You will enjoy this if you are a friend of the soil. Its a How and Why on Butterfly gardening and Monarching in Louisiana…..   Malcolm practices his Black Belt form on camera!

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click on the above pic,  and see Asclepias viridis at the Bogue Chitto, Mississippi exit on Interstate-55, looking north at 7:30 a.m.

State highway mowing-management in Louisiana and Mississippi needs advice from the perspective of an ecologist or three

I did some 70 mph botanizing, on my trip for work to West Monroe, La. Monday. I made a few stops to photograph and to do some brief on-the-ground botanizing as well. On the way back, I rode the part of Interstate 55, from Brookhaven, Ms. to Hammond, La for the second time that day. There was some stark differences in the landscape, between the Loosiana side and the Mississip side of I-55.

I made a few observations.

1. Why does the State mow this early along the highways?

The Mississip side of the state line, from above Brookhaven to McComb, was just filthy with Green Milkweed. There were thousands and thousands of plants, some of the most beautiful stands I have seen in a single day’s time; mile after mile of it. The Louisiana end, from Hammond to MacComb had been mowed about a month before. It was mostly void of flowering plants; thirty miles of Milkweeds swimming in species richness vs. thirty miles of no Milkweeds and almost flowering plants.

The Louisiana end looked like a golf course rough, and if you blurred your vision, it looked like a golf course fairway, a really slick lawn. The Mississip side was chocked full of flowering splendor. There were painterly sweeping strokes of the bright golden yellow of Coreopsis lanceolata, the Lance Leaf Corepsis, Coreopsis tomentosa, The Hairy Coreopsis, the clear-white of Erigeron Philidelphicus, the Showy Daisy Fleabane. There were possibly hundreds of millions of tiny purpley Verbena rigida and tenuisecta flowers, and most definitely hundreds of millions of umbel-buds of Sinecio tomentosus, Wooly Golden Ragwort, one of the prized and cherished, most beautiful of the perennial wildflowers in our fair state, especially in those numbers, the populations are phenomenal.

Crossing from the Loosiana border across to the Mississip border, I felt like Dorothy stepping into Land of Oz.

The mowing in late March of the Louisiana side brought the vegetation down to six inches, which triggered a vegetative reaction (new growth). It also exposed the soil to direct sunlight, which heated up the soil early-on, which totally shut down the groovy vegetation and spurred the growth of things that will come much later, on the Mississip side.

The sad part is its just a matter of a week or so before the mowers hit I-55 Interstate systems. They’ve just been held up by our persistent rains. I saw them working in full force on I-20.

2. the argument for mowing the highways (and I have heard it from the horse’s mouth), is that it is a safety concern/hazard because of the height of the vegetation. Right now, the only species that is at all tall is an occasional Thistle, maybe one or ten thistles every ten acres. Does a thistle every now and then constitute an entire mowing of ten thousand acres? Probly not.

I agree with the idea of mowing in late May or June, but right now, the vegetation where it hasn’t been mowed is only about six inches higher that where it has been mowed. I say bully bully. I say wait until the Milkweeds are done fruiting before mowing commences. This will likely benefit the Milkweeds, no?

3. The DOT needs an ecologist muscleman on staff or as a consultant, to guide their management strategies. DOT is the largest manager of land in the state and should be run as such, with an ecological approach hammered into the program.

The reason there is not an ecological approach to highway management is that the DOT would have to change their activity schedule and reduce mowing. They’d have to give up spraying their unwise herbicide use and if they didn’t mow, they’d hear it from Senator such-and-such and all the other mow-happy folks in the state via telephone or email. I am told DOT people get a lot of flack from folks when they don’t mow so its a quandary.

I am all about safety and federal guidelines on the Interstate highway system but these folks are seriously misguided and have very big guns (budgets). They know that if they reduce their management, they’ll loose money and all state departments always want more money.

4. Reduce herbicides in the landscape

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above, When they spray over the railings on steep slopes, they are causing dead vegetation and excouraging soil erosion. This costs money to fix.

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Miles and miles of herbicide sprayed along the Mississippi (Milkweed) side of the border. It is simply bad planning, in my opinion to install the protective rails so close to the highway edge. This makes for an unsafe environment for highway workers and a difficult zone to manage, so close to the highway. It should be placed in the middle of the median. Bad form on design, MDOT. And the herbicides just kill perennial grasses and forbs and encourage weedy, tall annuals. Any horticulturist knows that. You’re making the vegetation more weedy by spraying.

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above, the beauty of Verbena rigida and Senecio tomentosus, near McComb, Mississippi. click on the photos to enlarge ’em.

5. Engineers know engineering, Landscape Architects know landscape architecture, but do either know that this is a beautiful natural garden that does not need mowing this early in the growing season?

Apparently not.

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above, the very beautiful but highly invasive Cogon grass, on I-59, south of Picayune, April 22, 2015. The seed of Cogon grass is maturing and about to float away on its journey to find bare soil to connect with. Spraying now is easy for crews to do since it is now that it is so highly visible. Ideally it should be sprayed just before seed heads mature to this point (four or five days ago, every year).

6. Cogon grass, our worst invasive plant, a horrible offender, a grass that is moving more rapidly across Louisiana now, as it did in Mississippi, since the mid-1990’s, will be impacting the economy of the Louisiana (as it has in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi). The state has a resonsibility to be vigilent in its efforts to contain it on their rights of way. They are the stewards of our roadways and they should be focusing on Cogon when it is just about to fruit, right now; spraying the dickens out of it. After all, this is the only time a crew of sprayers can identify and shoot at it to kill. Our roadways are the corridors that the fluffy travel-for-miles-seeds of Cogon grass moves. Put the crews out spraying Cogon instead of mowing our lovely wildflower gardens. Get productive, DOT!

I think I’ve said enough.

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

 

 

 

Monty the Dog Goes to the Farm!/ awesome new LSU Hilltop meadow planting-planning/ City of Mandeville-La DOT pine prairie planting completed/LSU Hilltop Arbo Symposium speakers finalized, announced

 

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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.

http://sites01.lsu.edu/wp/hilltop/adult-programs/symposium/

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.

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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)!

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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.

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a good burn was had by all, ya’ll 🙂

a greener Baton Rouge, “Plant Smart Baton Rouge”

This Saturday afternoon, July 19th, at LSU’s Hilltop Arboretum, I will be speaking, along with Scott Courtright, sharing ideas about natural landscaping in the urban condition, at Plant Smart Baton Rouge, “a green educational event”. The title of my talk is Louisiana Native Grasses for Urban Landscapes. I will discuss new concepts utilizing grasses and grass-like plants to create low energy landscapes that can be used by designers to incorporate optional venues of beauty and ecological function into large swaths of the urban forest.

Specific topics that I’ll cover are monoculture meadows, biodiversity native meadows, seasonal color-inspired meadows, sedge meadows, and low-mow lawns, all of these applicable to Baton Rouge and the central Gulf South region.

I hope to see you there. Here is a link to the event announcement on the web. Robert Seeman, nephew of a favorite client of mine from the late 1990’s, and current Director of Baton Rouge Green visited my prairie farm in Pearl River County, Mississippi in June. He took photographs of plants in the fields. I will wear the same goofy-cool outfit I used in the field with him that day, the one that hid me from the glaring sun, just for kicks. He included one of the photos of me in one of my Coral Bean patches in the announcement.

… stirring it up, yall! 🙂

http://batonrougegreen.com/content.cfm?id=39

central Gulf South Silphiums

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!!!!

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above: a single flower of Will Fleming’s awesome “curly leafed” Rosin Weed, almost five inches across. not too shabby.

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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.

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above: Silphium laciniata, the Compass Plant, emerging after burn in spring in the Covington garden. 🙂

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Compass Plant in flower and fruit, Eunice, Louisiana

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Gail and UWA student Colton stand amongst hundreds of ancient Compass Plants at the oh-so-amazing Epes, Alabama chalk glade.

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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

http://www.missouriplants.com/Yellowalt/Silphium_laciniatum_page.html

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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.

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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.

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above: the burly-tough rigid stem and leaves of Silphium integrifolium

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above, Silphium integrifolia in full-glory, Harrell Prairie Botanical Area, Bienville National Forest, Scott County, Mississippi

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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.

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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.

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actual flowers of Silphium

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after flowering, seed setting

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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.

http://www.bluegrasswoodland.com/uploads/Campbell___Seymour_2011b.pdf

 

 

UWA Campus Wildflower Wonderland, Black Belt Prairie Garden, coming to a rolling boil

and first, you add a roux..

Its been a full year since I’ve had a chance to visit the University of Western Alabama Black Belt (BB) Garden. And what a wonderful thing, to walk these floral collections, with my good friend and prairie-partner-in-crime, Gail Barton. Gail and I started our study-work here many years ago, when we’d organize annual trips into the Black Belt Prairie region to ride the backroads, hunting for remnants of this ancient complex vegetative system, trying to learn the characteristics and the quirks of its plants. We would drive til we saw some prairie indicator plant and then slow down the truck to determine weather the spot was sufficiently loaded with cool plants to stop and rustle around. The most interesting thing we saw in all of our trips may be the Cemetery just north of Livingston on highway 39 that has a prairie all wrapped-up in headstones…. We’d originally started doing this many years before in and around Gail’s old stomping grounds, near the city of Starkville Mississippi, where she was raised. One of our frequent stops was the MSU Entomology Department’s Osborne Prairie, a leased piece of land with a high quality natural area just east of town. We ended up spending time studying in the Sumter County Alabama area too simply because it was closer to Meridian (Gail’s home) and because it had lots of available remnants. We didn’t realize just how much prairie was in Sumpter County til’ we were awarded the opportunity to build the BB Garden. Most people in Sumter County don’t realize that there is prairie in their county but I am here to tell you, there’s plenty still of it left. Sumter County is rich with natural flora. It just hasn’t yet been destroyed.

We were contracted to design and develop the prairie garden using only species found within the county lines of Sumter County. Dr. Richard Holland, President of the University, concieved the idea of the Garden and brought us aboard to assist him with this effort. We executed the work for the garden, beginning in June 2012 and ending in Early 2013.

For nearly a year, each month, Gail and I would meet and spend a day or so with Sam Ledbetter, the Horticulturist at the Garden who happens to be a life time resident of the County. We would have a growing season to scour the county, hunting for species to collect seed or cuttings from. Our goal was propagating for high conservatism, providing a prairie landscape high in species richness and species biodiversity.

We have succeeded in creating gardens that are incredibly diverse, ones that tell a story and that touch the emotions. Its a great garden, no doubt.

The famous Wiggins, Mississippi native and 1930’s baseball Hall of Famer “Dizzy” Dean once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it!”

Well, I am here to tell you, these are the best restored prairie gardens in the state of Alabama. They are loaded with species very uncommon in gardens, and some, rare in the county and state. Most importantly, they contain the genetics that when you walk by, scream out at you, “hey! I’m Sumter County, Alabama, Black Belt Prairie! Just sayin’!”

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above: the garden can be seen in the google earth shot above as a triangle in the center of the frame, sectioned by paths. click on it to enlarge it.

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Me (Ed Norton) on left, with Gail Barton, Sam Ledbetter, and UWA BB Garden Director Steven Liverman in the garden, June 2014

There is a super-duper collection of Blazing Stars here. We found species we had to get identified. And all of the Silphiums known to exist in the county are here, present and accounted for. There are seedlings of Silphium laciniata, the Prairie Compass Plant, scattered across this one acre landscape. Seedlings of Echinacea pallida, too. Gail and Sam grew these from seed.

The most special plant found would be the Side Oats Gramma grass. Gail got just a tiny population in one location along the Tombigbee River. She got a fraction of a handful of seed and grew seedlings to transplant.

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above: at left, just after final seeding in November 2012.  right, June 2014

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above: large clumps of Black Belt prairie grasses form dense textural patterns across the garden.

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looking south…

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above: Liatris, Blazing Star

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a legume member propagated from an Epes, Alabama prairie. I forget the name, but its a high conservancy species sometimes found in large numbers near chalk outcrops.

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a monarda, possibly a fistulosa X punctata hybrid?

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Eryngium, Button Snakeroot

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Spiral Orchid

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Narrow-Leafed Mountain Mint

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Indian grass and smaller Little Bluestem grass

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Looking west in the southeastern-most prairie patch

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seedlings and blooming Compass Plant, Silphium laciniata, are scattered about

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above: the fuzzy, full foliage of Helianthus silphioides just before bolting to bloom. Thanks to Dr Brian Keener for the ID on this plant which was a riddle to the rest of us.

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Gail shows off her man-made chalk out-crop, inspired by a commercial development filling with chalk soil fill. She simply asked to borrow some.

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Looking south from the Campbell House, the outcrop in the distance on the right

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Big bluestem grass growing large above mass of Little Bluestem grass

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Monarda and Grey Coneflower in some areas are quite colorful

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Little Bluestem grass sod and Compass Plants at my feet, growing in the Garden with Sumter County blood.

It looks like our collecting at Mr. Miller’s prairie hayfield just up highway 80 from the college paid off since tens of thousands of adolescent little bluestem and Indian grass plants cover the ground, in some places forming a thick dense sod. The grasses are as thick as thieves. They make up a dominance across the ground plain that is to me divine.

Most people would overlook the garden as a place to be mowed, but I understand that it is being used for biology classes.

It was a fantastic opportunity to be able to help in preserving and nurturing these fine and numerous plantings.

If you get a chance, check in when you’re going through Livingston. The garden is five minutes from the Interstate-20 Livingston exit, thirty minutes east of Meridian Mississippi. Come see the ‘organized wildness’ we’ve created!

living on the edge!

I had the good fortune to hear James Hitchmough speak about his favorite subject at a conference in January. Dr. Hitchmough is Professor of Horticultural Technology, Department of Landscape, Sheffield University, Great Britain. At one point, he was talking about trying new and different things in landscape and he said “all of the exciting stuff that happens is not in the normal center, but on the edge…”.

My good friend Charles Allen often famously says “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room!”. He usually follows this up with big belly-laugh.

In Louisiana, our “cutting edge” is usually twenty or forty years behind everybody else’s.

In the upper Midwest and Northeastern U.S., landscape designers regularly incorporate sedges, as grass-like plants, particularly for wood edge meadow plantings and for woodland ground cover, when designing with natural systems, designing for biodiversity. I’ve thought about Charles and James and their “edge” remarks a few times this week since I was planting what is, I believe is the first purposeful sedge meadow planted in the region, right here at the Ponderosa.

Its not a big planting at all, just about twenty feet by ten feet: a small “edge” garden. Small or not, it should, in time, reveal some interesting things. We will see.

While working with Philadelphia prairie hipster Larry Weaner on the Lafitte Corridor project in New Orleans, I was introduced to the concept of using these fine ornamental plants in instances where grasses can’t be used. The Lafitte project has three acres of sedge meadows designed into the landscape as rainwater run-off retention basins, designed to capture and filter the water. This was done because of the infestation of Torpedo grass and Johnson grass that exists on the project site.

The sedge meadow I planted is a red-neck prototype intended to be a model for promoting the use of this problem solving idea. Here at my place, it allows me to plant a garden of good plants where I couldn’t otherwise. You see, I have forty different flavors of bad weeds here and this approach helps me work past my weed problems. Kind of like a twelve step program works for winos. After all, the first step is admitting you have a problem, huh? For example, I have, in some parts of the yard, the awful Skunk Vine, a plant that can take over a lot of land really quickly and all but make it disappear. I can spray a selective herbicide over the garden and not hurt sedges but will kill the dickens out of the Skunk Vine. Yay!!!! This way, I can eliminate the old nasty, stinkin’, no-good skunk vine.. Thats a big deal when you are otherwise stuck with doing battle with such a brute forever.

Sedges are numerous in species anywhere you go in the eastern U.S.. Many forms to choose from….but I have my favorites.

The sedge I’ve worked the most with is Carex glaucescens, or Clustered Sedge. Its a bad-ass grass but not a grass at all, really. Its blue toned in color and grows in a fairly vertical form and has fine to medium textured, strapped foliage with unique flowering parts that are delightfully (relatively) ornamental. The ultimate hieght of this is thirty inches and the width, about eighteen inches. I grew this plant for years in my nursery even though no one would buy it. I, however, have always liked its charm and character and I would “work-it-in” when the client was looking the other way. Super-cool pics of it @ the link, below

http://alabamaplants.com/Sedges/Carex_glaucescens_page.html

Carex vulpinoidea, or Brown Fox Sedge is a most desirable plant for gardening with poor, perennially moist to constantly wet soils. Really, its a beautiful thing, y’all! This plant is perfectly rounded in overall form, about 30 inches tall and four feet around. The foliage is very fine textured and deep, dark green. The flowers are not particularly showy but the fruit bearing stalks are. The golden brown fruit color contrasts nicely with the wispy-hair strapped leaves. I noticed this attractive grass-like plant on the property here several years ago because it was so graceful and green in the harshest part of the winter. I have come to appreciate it greatly. Nice plant.

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click to enlarge the photo of Fox Sedge, above.

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above: the fruit-bearing terminal of Fox Sedge

Both Brown Fox and Clustered sedge are what I would call evergreen sedges since they do not have a period of dormancy,  …just transition.

Carex flacosperma, or Blue Wood Sedge is another. I originally got a start of this plant many years ago from my plant-friend Lynn Libous-Bailey of the Mississippi Delta who got it from Dr Charles Bryson, the regional expert on Carex and Cyperus. This sedge has an attractive  glaucus-blue foliage color and is found here growing occasionally on this remnant Pine flat-woods. The fruit of the plant is nut-like and comes packaged in elongated clusters. The height on this one is about four or six inches and the width, about 18 inches around. Saweet!

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above: Blue Wood Sedge in winter time

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scaly, nut-like fruit of Blue Woods Sedge arrives in late spring

These three all bloom and fruit in the spring. Of the three, only two are “evergreen” and have substance in the summer garden (C. glaucescens and vulpinoidea). Flacosperma disappears in summer and comes back magically come October. FYI, Carex, here in the Gulf South, have a backwards dormancy period, typically going dormant in the hottest part of the summer, returning when the days become shorter, in early fall. They are in their glory in the dead of winter when most plants are taking a long siesta.

So, the deed has been done. The seed has been sown. And I will manage and watch closely, this garden, over time. I will let you (all three of you) know what does or doesn’t happen in the mean time.

au revoir!

Note: all of the Carex species I have worked with/have mentioned here have been positively identified by Dr. Charles “the Sledge of Sedges” Bryson. Thanks, Doc!

Pastorek Habitats collaborator wins super-duper NORA contract

 

The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority has chosen Mossop + Michaels Landscape Architects as recipients of a grant for research and development using ecological landscaping strategies on properties it maintains within the city. The goal is to produce trial demonstrations of vegetation that will increase the beauty of the neighborhood and provide options for management to reduce the cost of mowing the properties. For more on the basics of the program(its way-cool), check out the link below.

http://design.lsu.edu/landscape/?p=1860

Pastorek Habitats, LLC has been in consultation with the firm, assisting with the technical aspects of these designs, so that they will be acceptable to the City’s vision and beneficial to the neighborhoods in which they exist. The idea is to reduce the mowing frequency while encouraging colorful swaths of flowering plants to cover the ground between the mowing.

This idea really breaks through the barrier when it comes to large scale naturalized urban landscaping in this part of the country, but especially in Louisiana. These are important questions that need solid answers. What, for instance, does Detroit do with its square miles of open abandoned residential lots. What does New Orleans do with 40,000 blighted homes and houseless properties? What approaches work and are ecologically functional and visually pleasing? Cities across the nation are searching for these very answers.

These are the answers we’re after. It will be a wonderful experimental trial which will hopefully produce a working model that NORA can use.

Drive any one of the interstate highways in Louisiana this time of year and you’ll see miles and miles of colorful vegetation along the highway edge. Yesterday on my way to and from class in Baton Rouge, I passed millions and millions of blooming wild onion plants that colored the roadsides white, with painterly splashes of bright yellow non-native Ranunculus and lavender-purple of Salvia lyrata. In a late April, drive I-55, from Hammond, Louisiana to Jackson, Mississippi and you’ll see, the whole way, a golden yellow floral carpet of the much-worthy perennial Senecio tomentosus. But look and enjoy it in a hurry because the gang mowers of the DOTD will mow it down, usually at peak bloom. Drive interstate 20 between Jackson and Meridian, Mississippi from May to July and see the meadow-like beauty of Erigeron stigosus stretching from one side of the state to the other. This is beauty within our grasp. We should harness it for the benefit of the public good, don’t you think?

The questions we hope to answer are the same ones Wes Michaels and I have been pondering for the last few years while teaching the Urban Meadows class at LSU. How do we design colorful landscapes in the urban context that are biologically substantial and horticulturally significant, yet economically feasible to establish and manage? How do we use some of the ideas of James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnet, blend them with what we know of restoration with native flora to build models of color for the common citizen to enjoy?

How do we take the bits and pieces of restoration technology, add and subtract odds and ends of horticulture to create beautiful landscapes that cost very little to manage? That is the question we intend to answer. Wish us luck!

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above: the simple beauty of Erigeron philadelphicaus reigns in the disturbed soils of Louisiana. …click on the photos to enlarge

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Erigeron philadelphicus, Philadelphia Fleabane, in a vase for my wife Candi, with the sweet-fragrant Rhododendron ‘Koromo Shikibu’ and R. austrinum. Fleabane is a great cut flower.

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above: drifts of Ranunculus and White Clover emerge from a mowed landscape after winter has passed.

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above: Wild onion covers the landscape with the subtleness of milky white in late March in the Central Gulf Coastal region. Beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder.