first frost heralds climactic end to long prairie season

October in the prairie brings on a rush of flowering activity. Many late season species of plants are just getting cranked up about now, making their way to flowering before first frost arrives. Likewise, activity of pollinators increases as so many species of flowering plants come into peak bloom and availability of nectar becomes abundant.

Here on the Gulf coast where our growing season is spread out for such a long duration, spring and summer flowering plants have long finished, stepping aside for the prairie crescendo triggered by the shortening of days.

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False Foxglove, a fairly common Louisiana plant

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A white colored form of Gerardia shows up occasionally.

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And so do the caterpillars of the Common Buckeye Butterfly. Its not uncommon to find one or more of these on each plant.

The hallmark of the fall prairie aesthetic along with late blooming Salvia, Asters, Goldenrods, Blazing stars, and so many other species, are the grasses, the vibrant bones of the prairie. Light refracting grasses shine in the fall and winter season, providing structure and form, beauty and robustness; exuberance.

Here in the Gulf coastal plain, prairie is a year-round feature for man and creature.

In the ecology of restored prairies that are grown from seed, grasses are the part of the landscape that densely covers the ground and is the least hospitable toward weedy species – old field weeds. The southern native prairie grass doubles as a nurse crop for perennial prairie wildflowers. All find their niche – and grow and fight for space, nutrients and moisture, root zone – a real fight for individual survival.

Its so fun and exciting each year to see and feel the liveliness of all the activity in a garden such as this.

 

False Foxglove is a great plant to try from seed. So easy. Its almost a guarantee you’ll get a stand of plants from a tiny bag of seed. It thrives with a little disturbance. Just collect seed by stripping the stalks with your hands any time, now until first frost. Put them in a paper bag and keep dry. Sow the seed whenever, in crudely prepared soil. They’ll grow!



Repentance Park, City of Baton Rouge, La., an urban park with a grassy flair!

Indian grass, it turns out, happens to be an effective low maintenance groundcover for an extreme-slope large scale landscape condition.

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above, the foliage of Indian grass is blue green, a stark contrast to the dark green canopy of Southern Magnolia.

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click to enlarge photos

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Golden yellow flowering heads of Yellow Indian Grass – of local, Louisiana genes. BR Convention Center on left. Different grasses species and different horticultural selections of some grasses have varying characteristics that can be exploited, useful for many horticultural applications. 3500 Indian grass plants were grown as one-year-old plugs for this garden planting, planted three years ago.

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Baton Rouge’s City Hall looms in the distance as Indian grass solidly solves slippery slope erosion issue, while making a great color and texture contrast with Carissa Holly, bottom right  – Repentance Park gardens, designed by Reed-Hilderbrand, Landscape Architects/ Reich, Associates, Landscape Architects/ Pastorek Habitats, llc.

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Louisiana Department of Transportation/ University of Louisiana at Lafayette prairie planting is rockin’

This La DOT prairie garden is about two acres in size, just west of New Iberia, Louisiana, at Highway 90. September 27, 2016. It was planted in November of last year – still a whippersnapper, yet.

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above, January 16, 2016, google earth

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above, May 6, 2016, google earth

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September 27, 2016 – Ryan Duhon, DOT Supervisor and project partners UL Prof Jim Foret and Mark Simon stand in the shade of “Mr. Al”, the giant transplanted Live Oak tree, surrounded by lush first year prairie growth. We saw many nice maturing flowering clumps of Little Bluestem grass everywhere – some fistulosa Bee Balm, Hyssop Leafed Thoroughwort (HLT), and a few very hip Clustered Bushmint that were scattered here and yonder. There were lots of Boltonia aster – typical for a first-year seeding. And there were a few hundred giant cloud-puffs of Late Flowering Thoroughwort (LFT) Eupatorium serotinum (the white flowering plant in the photo) – I guess you could say LFT looks a little weedy but its one of our best butterfly plants and it happens that it blooms just in the window of time for Monarch butterfly migration, late Sept to late October. Such a great pollinator plant! You gotta get you some, folks!

In prairie ecology from seed, LFT is replaced by through natural succession, a lack of soil disturbance. With planting (soil disturbance), LFT fills the site and over time it fades as LFT colonizes.

LFT is a gangly fellow, four to six feet tall while LFT is typically about two or three feet short.

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Eupatorium serotinum, a generalist species, is associated as much with woodlands as it is with prairie. A commonly found disturbance-oriented plant considered to be an exceptional late season butterfly nectar source – a worthy pollinator species. map, BONAP

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Eup hyssoppifolium is limited to high quality herbaceous grasslands of the Gulf and Atlantic coastal plain, etc. From seed it establishes easily and is prolific seed (plant) producer.

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Eup Serotinum is found easily in every Parish in Louisiana, a very common roadside plant- Eup Hyssop, is not so easily found, limited to high quality, generally fire managed, sites. (above images Allen and Thomas – Vascular Flora of Louisiana)

Eupatoriums are an important part of our native flora with 40 plus species and subspecies found in Louisiana. In a prairie you’ll often find many species growing together. Valuable plants they are.

After our visit with Ryan, Mark, Jim and I went out to Cade Farm, the ULL, School of Geosciences Living Laboratory to see the new seed storage and educational  facilities being built and to see the site of the new four acre prairie garden, to be planted this November. Nice.

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National Guard prairie making hay while the sun shines

Pretty fun to walk the fields at the National Guard facility in Franklinton last week. There are acres of cover crop of Sida, Zinnia, Purple Basil, brown-top Millet with lots of Buckeyes, Sulfurs, Fritillaries and Swallowtail butterflies a-fluttering about – many many butterflies. Sida rhombifolia is an amazing early succession weedy plant that really brings in the butterflies, skippers and what have you. Lots of pollinator activity there, ya’ll – how fun!

 

Sida is anything but a good ornamental plant. Its a weed, really. From ten feet away, you can’t see the tee-tinesy flower, but a closer look at the flower and you can see how it might be related to the hibiscus family.

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The stems of the plant are tough stuff, nearly unbreakable, by hand. Its a disturbance oriented plant but declines and eventually disappears from prairie managed landscapes due to intense plant competition and from the lack of soil disturbance in managed prairie.

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LaDOT eastbound I-20 Rest Area pollinator garden at Tremont is showing signs of progress in spite of a late planting date. Who would have thunk?

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Four months after planting, we have some good looking identifiable inflorescences of a few of the Little Bluestem plants, above. Seeing the Bluestem plants with flower stalks helps develop a search image to identify seedlings without flowering stalks, below. Its really hard to ID grasses without flowering, fruiting parts.

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Go Team Blue!

Perennials are generally super slow to grow and prairie garden is made mostly with perennials; grasses and all. Seedlings like these take time, to make enough roots to mature, to make a flower and then fruit. It takes a few years to develop a dense prairie sod from seed. So what are you waiting for?

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cool prairie plants that double as outdoor ornamentals and indoor arrangements!

A few prairie plants I’ve enjoyed so much this year – natives and nonnatives – consider them for ornamental plantings. Find yourself some Rudbeckia subtomentosa, Sweet Coneflower, and you’ll have a plant worthy of the finest spot in your garden.

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Rudbeckia subtomentosa has a long bloom period, two full months. Here it is in flower with Wendy’s Wish Salvia and Amastad Salvia, Mikania (not in flower), in a semi shade spot in my garden in Covington, last week. Its been in flower since August 1. Sweet coneflower takes mixed shade or sun and is tough as nails, an evergreen ground cover in winter.

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cool, dude “Henry Eiller” Rudbeckia subtomentosa, a northern selection, northern genes, of R. sub. I’ve been admiring this plant in my friend Gail’s garden for years. Very unique indeed, no?

 

Kosteletskya (Hibiscus) virginica var. ‘Immaculate”, the white flowering form of Coastal Hibiscus, one found by Landscape Architect/ plantsman John Mayronne in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, in the 1990’s. Its now a common specialty garden plant. Notice Rudbeckia subtomentosa in flower, in the background, Indian Grass in foreground. Plants purchased from Rick Webb’s Louisiana Growers Nursery (wholesale). A six footer, Immaculate is upright and flowers in late September. Flowers open at night and finish up when the afternoon heat arrives.

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http://www.nichegardens.com/catalog/item.php?id=1558&PHPSESSID=4dfc8ef8a53ffd7b7311adfbd37d6ca2

One of the most exciting and fun plants I’ve had the chance to grow this year is African Basil, Blue Basil, a non-native. Over the years I’ve dabbled in Basil cultivation – really like to use Sweet Basil and Thai Basil and of course purple leafed Sweet Basil, etc., etc. but planted this year about 20 or so pots, from Stelz Nursery, and how amazing is this plant, constantly full of Bumble Bees and even Hummingbirds taking a sip every now and then. Some Bumble bees even bed down at night right on the foliage – they can’t seem to get enough of the stuff! wow. amazing plant for sure.

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Cacalia ovata in hand in a cool seed field – Tangipoahoa Parish, La.

sweet prairie in all its subtle glory, above

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October 13, 2016 Marc Pastorek Presentation to City Council on status of prairie garden, City of Mandeville, 6:00, at Community Center across from City Hall
October 17, 2016 – Master Gardeners of Greater New Orleans – Prairie Gardening for pollinators via seed – East Bank Regional Library 4747 West Napoleon Ave., Metairie, LA 70001.
November 2, 2016 – 2016 Smart Growth Summit, Baton Rouge Louisiana –
Session Details
NATIVE PLANTS, URBAN ECOLOGY & SMART GROWTH PLANNING
When: Wednesday, November 2nd, 1:15pm-2:45pm
Where: Hartley/Vey Studio, Shaw Center for the Arts
Speakers:
Marc Pastorek, Founding Partner and Landscape Designer, Pastorek Habitats, LLC
Robert Seemann, Program Director, Baton Rouge Green
MODERATOR: Ryan Benton, Designer, CPEX
December 2, 2016 – Master Naturalist Urban Ecology workshop, New Orleans City Park

 

http://summit.cpex.org/2016-agenda/

for native plant and ecology events email Dr Allen at native@camtel.net

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the genus Sida, Louisiana

by Charles Allen

The genus Sida (teaweed) includes five native herbaceous annuals or perennial species in the Malvaceae. The stems are tough, and the plants are distinctly tap-rooted. The leaves are alternate and simple, with pinnate major veins and obvious stipules. The inflorescences are axillary and solitary flowers with pedicels that vary in length. The flowers are perfect and regular, with five sepals, five orange-yellow to yellow petals, and numerous stamens that are united into a tube around the ovary. The ovary is superior, and the fruit is a ring of five to ten carpels that separate at maturity. The caterpillars of common and tropical checkered skipper plus the gray hairstreak use Sida plants for food. The plants are also host to the caterpillars of four moth species including the tersa sphinx.

A. Mericarps, styles, and stigmas 5; stem with a spine subtending each leaf; leaves usually truncate to subcordate at the base……………………………………………………………………………………………. S. spinosa
A Mericarps, styles, and stigmas (6-) avg. 10 (-14); stem lacking spines subtending the leaves; leaves usually cuneate to rounded at base…………………………………………………………………………………………..B

B(A). Leaves narrowly elliptic to linear, (3-) 4-20× as long as wide…………………………..C

B. Leaves elliptic-rhombic, mostly 2-3 times as long as wide…………………………………….D C.(B) Pedicels shorter than 2 cm ……………………………………………………………………… S. elliottii
C Pedicels 2-6 cm long ………………………………………………………………………………S. lindheimeri

D(B). Leaves and branches borne distichously; stipules usually falcate, several-veined.. …………………………………………………………………………………………… S. acuta

D. Leaves and branches borne spirally; stipules linear, 1 (-3)-veined .S. rhombifolia

The most common and widespread species is common teaweed (Sida rhombifolia) also known as ironweed and Cuban jute. It is a somewhat dark color and very common with reports from all 64 parishes.

The second most common Sida is spiny teaweed with a short spine subtending each leaf. It is yellow green and fairly widespread in agricultural areas. It is reported from 56 parishes and these are the eight parishes where it is not reported: Acadia, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Sabine, St Helena, St. James, Tangipahoa, and Washington.

The other three species are uncommon to rare. Sida acuta (common wireweed) is reported from East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Plaquemines parishes. Sida elliottii (Elliott’s fanpetals) is reported only from Cameron, East Baton Rouge, and St. Tammany parishes and Sida lindheimeri (showy fanpetals) only from Cameron and East Feliciana parishes.

 

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-biggest-missed-opportunity-in-dc/2016/09/16/93993ed8-79e1-11e6-bd86-b7bbd53d2b5d_story.html?utm_term=.2c25e7883bd7

keep bugging me, man!

Habitat Conversion

Convert a patch of your lawn into prairie and find a world you would never discover otherwise; the plants, the patterns, the bugs!!!

Insects are not just beneficial, they’re essential! Bugs are good. Ask any Mother bird who is fluttering about in search of food for her chicks and she’ll tell ya. “chirp, bugs are good for my bebes! …..chirp chirp!”

“A single pair of breeding chickadees must find 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young”, according to Doug Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. Even though seeds and berries are nutritious winter staples, insects are best for feeding growing fledglings. Surprisingly, insects contain more protein than beef, and 96% of North American land birds feed their young with them. Although fly maggots and spiders might curl your lip, to a chickadee, these are life-saving morsels full of fat and protein.

If you’re not a fan of six legged organisms, you should curl up with Dr. Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home. It will reveal the complexity of nature through bugs. or just pull up any Doug Tallamy youtube video.

Then you’ll see!

Personal Outlook Conversion

What comes along with growing a prairie landscape besides flowery landscapes and bugs, is something you’ll find within yourself, a sense of satisfaction that goes far beyond what a garden can bring; a lesson in gratefulness and gratitude, a lifetime of beauty, joy and wonder.

Easily Demonstrating Pollinator Response

Wonderful things happen when you prairie garden. Plant Monarda punctata, Spotted Horsemint, and see a world of beauty and intrigue develop before you, from the tiniest seeds. Horsemint is a mid-succession to late succession species that comes up easily from seed (its a weed) in a prepared soil. It competes and proliferates over time. Kids! try this at home!

 

after a week of overcast rainy weather, the pollinators insects are out en masse, and very active, taking advantage of a first dry sunny day – this was planted in November 1998 – Pastorek Habitats-Meadowmakers’ seed farm – Carriere, Mississippi. What you can’t see clearly in the video, are many polllinator insects – working the Horsemint flowers for nectar. I walk right through the bees and wasps and they don’t bother me a bit – they’re too busy to notice. 🙂

 

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Spotted Horse Mint is a highly aromatic plant with all parts having a pleasant citrusy scent.

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above, a tiny native bee dances the Watusi in the disc of a Compass Plant flower – at the farm – tell me where you’ve seen one of these bee’s lately?

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Ville Platte’s Louisiana State Arboretum’s native prairie developing into a nice sod

The Louisiana State Arboretum prairie garden is near the arrival area, at the Park’s Visitor’s Center, adjacent to the parking lot.

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planted in the winter of 2012 with seed provided by Pastorek Habitats, these gardens have developed into a decent representation of what an attractive prairie habitat can be. The seed was collected from the Cajun Prairie Restoration site and other relic prairie areas in southwest Louisiana.

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Sabatia, Rose Gentian, above

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Green Milkweed

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obviously not my hand, ha – Kim Hollier, Interpetive Ranger at the Arboretum, holds the flowering head of a member of the Carrot Family, a “hyper-pollinator” species, Eryngium yuccafolia, Button Snakeroot.

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above Liatirs, Blazing Star, and a very happy Gulf Fritillary butterfly, foreground, with a Switch grass mass, in background.

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Eastern Amberwing Dragonfly

(photos by Arboretum Interpretive Ranger Kim Hollier)

 


 

Narrow-leaf Mountain Mint – pollinator plant profile

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Mt. Mint flowering clusters make a good landing pad for butterflies

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Even though the flower clusters are tee-tiny and really need to be examined by using a hand lens to truly appreciate them, they can be quite showy in the landscape when in found in large numbers. Generally speaking, when you find this plant in the wild, it is usually a sign, an indicator, of high quality vegetation. Its a nearly carefree garden plant, with annual cutting back of spent stalks, the only chore needed to keep it looking at its best. In nature, fire does this. No insects that I have ever seen cause it any damage. They are probably too intoxicated by its sweet nectar to care about eating the plant.

Mountain Mints are highly aromatic. All parts of the plant have minty scented qualities and can be used to make tea and as a culinary spice.

I don’t remember ever having lost a plant in a garden and in fact it readily multiplies; it proliferates!

Plantings that I did in my seed field many years ago are now large masses that have spread and become the dominant feature in the landscape, moving out other exotic and early succession species.

A plant grown from seed becomes, over a three year period, a clump about a foot or so in diameter. The clumps increase in size over the years, becoming a dense ground cover, a green carpet an inch or two high in the cool of winter. When in bloom, at its peak, its stands about two feet tall.

Gardening with Narrow-leaf Mountain Mint is so simple – easier than tying your shoe. Propagate it by division by separating individual plants from the mature clumps. Take cuttings from vegetative growth just as the stems become rigid (June) and well before they begin to elongate and bud up to flower.

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium copy

above, Like many prairie species, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium, has an extensive range of distribution. You’ll find it in prairies relics in the eastern half of the country. (source, BONAP)

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In Louisiana, its generally out of the river flood plain parishes, but just about everywhere else. (source Vascular Flora of Louisiana)

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from Charles Allen’s Edible Plants of the Gulf South

 



 

City of Mandeville / La. Dept of Transportation “Wildflower Conservation Garden” (that apparently no one notices! ha!) Feeds the Insect Masses!

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above, some schmuck standing next to one of the dozen or so Long Leaf Pine trees in the City of Mandeville prairie, a prairie garden grown from awesome local-gene, Pastorek Habitat seed. Nice Ragweed in the photo foreground – the yellow flowers are likely Coreopsis linifolia

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saweet! Impressed, huh!

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a nice patch of mature Bothriochloa, above

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a stand of Florida Paspalum has arrived on the scene, above

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…and the first Rough Leaf Goldenrod will bloom this year…yay!

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some good sized polulations of Clustered Bushmint _Hyptis alata

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and some Spotted Horsemint, too…

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Little Bluestem grass, a conservative species, starts its late-summer reach to the sky, with flowering stalks (inflorescence) that will produce viable seed – the proliferating garden

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above, the first Liatris to bloom so far in the Mandeville garden, shows its adolescent floral spikes. Not sure which species – didn’t look. but could be pycnostachya, spicata or acidota. These and many other perennial plants will start to mature enough to start colonizing within the Bluestem structure, coloring up the landscape over time.

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above, 25 years of Liatris pycnostachya proliferation in Cajun Prairie Society restored prairie, Eunice, La., the result is a quite unusual and stunningly beautiful landscape, produced via seed. This garden has been the inspiration for my last twenty plus years of work. Dr. Charles M. Allen and his magical botanical creation, co-instigated by his friend and colleague Dr. Malcolm F. Vidrine, succeeded in their effort to establish a restored prairie in which to study prairie Ecology and restoration. Ten years ago there were just a smattering of the Liatris in this field, its only in the last several years that it has proliferated to this point. (September 2014) (click on photo to enlarge)

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Liatris pycnostachya, remnant prairie, Cameron Parish, Louisiana

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Laitris seed, magnified

The Southeastern U.S. pine landscapes are often called Long Leaf Pine-Bluestem plant communities because these two species were once the dominant species, generally speaking. Today it is not common to find either one of these in wild landscapes.

When I stopped in last week to see the Mandeville garden, the insect species were everywhere flying above, and nectaring on flowering plants. As I waded through the planting, grasshoppers, bees, skippers and moths darted away from me to a safer perch – and the sky was filled with hundreds and hundreds of Dragonflies.

 

the one + acre Mandeville Garden is at the corner of East Causeway Approach and Louisiana State Highway 190 – go check out all the critters, see it for yerself, ya’ll! its bad-ass.

Charles M. Allen Phd plant identification classes – see below link – these are excellent, intense classes in which to learn more about plant taxonomy

Sept 10-11 edible plant workshop – Allen Acres B and B

Sept 13-15 basic plant id workshop – Allen Acres

Sept 20-22 Wetlands Plant id workshop – Allen Acres

Sept 24 Pollination Celebration

https://tpmgblog.wordpress.com/pollination-celebration-2016/

Sept 24-25 Prairie Conference – Lafayette, La

http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event;jsessionid=35FA525E0215A325CCC9ECB3F93A6C0F.worker_registrant?llr=ejjbmvjab&oeidk=a07ecyp33k35061afd9

Sept 27-29 Graminoid (grass identification) workshop – Allen Acres

Sept 30-Oct 2 Butterfly Blast – Allen Acres

Oct 4-6 basic plant workshop (Poplarville, Ms)

Oct 8-10 basic plant workshop – Allen Acres

Oct 17-18 edible plant workshop – Allen Acres

Oct 25-27 basic plant id workshop – Allen Acres

Oct 29-30 edible plant workshop – Allen Acres

November 4-5 plant id workshop, Belle Chasse, La

Nov 6 edible plant workshop – half-day – Belle Chasse, La

 

for more info on these dates contact Dr. Charles Allen @   native@camtel.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Al gets hitched!

Mr. Al, the stately Live Oak tree that the Louisiana Department of Transportation saved from destruction a few years ago by moving it one mile ‘up the road’, welcomed some permanent company- a life companion, his favorite friend, a prairie, Tuesday. Al the Tree, had grown-up in a spot which had been slated for a shiny new frontage road on the adjacent highway 90. An effort was made by the community and the DOT to move him to a safe, comfortable place, where he could have a better view of the folks headed into New Iberia from the west. ha. and be out of the way of traffic. Ryan Duhon, a former student of Professor Foret, and district supervisor for the Louisiana DOT provided expert assistance in preparing the site for a new Cajun Prairie planting, about one and a half acres altogether, enough of a billowy blanket of prairie the ground fully surrounding Old Al, enough to make it all better. 🙂

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Moving a mile up the road, if your an maturing Live Oak, is quite a traumatic event. One day somebody’s fishing under your shade-casting limbs, and another you’re a mile further north! 😦  This could take years of prairie therapy for old guy to overcome. 🙂

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Jim Foret and his fellow-prairie-planters haying the seed.

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above, Mr. Al

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left to right, Dr. Jim Foret, four very happy and helpful Highway Transportation Dept technicians, DOT’s Ryan Duhon, Steven Nevitt, Lilli Voorhies, Jacob Delahoussaye, and lastly, another of Jim’s students, can’t remember his name 😦    (I asked for and will add the names of these fine folks later).

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The DOT hired Professor Jim to speak the language of tree and to care and nurse it along to new establishment. So time has passed and Al is now settled in, kicked back, relaxing with his bud Prairie.

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After a two year period of site prep, and three years after the transplanting of the tree, the new Cajun Prairie garden at the intersection of Jefferson Terrace Blvd and U.S. Highway 90 is now planted and the process of transition will be starting very soon with tiny spring-germinated seedlings.

 

The University of Lafayette, Experimental Farm, Cade, Louisiana, to develop a large experimental-research-demonstration Cajun Tallgrass Prairie gardens

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above, preparation will soon be underway at this ten-acre site at the Cade Farm, thanks to Susan Hester Edmonds, farm manager Mark Simon, and Professor Jim Foret’s native grassland initiative. We will develop designs of different models of Cajun Prairie vegetation to plant via seed.

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the ULL Model Sustainable Agriculture Complex is 600+ acres of farm and research land south of Lafayette near Cade, Louisiana

 

Here’s your sign!

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A sign for the soon-to-be 10 acres of prairie grass and wetland gardens scattered about the length of Lafitte Greenway and Revitalization Park project in New Orleans which now connects the French Quarter to The New Orleans City Park- Bayou St. John area. Howabout that, ya’ll?

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above, prairie grasses dominate the prairie landscape in the beginning of winter here in the central Gulf rim. The Doug Green home in Folsom, yesterday afternoon, looking east from the north side of the garden. These cool gardens were planted two years ago from seed.

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looking west, above. all of the summer vegetation has seeded and the remaining grasses, still with seed, wave in the wind

 

Black Bayou and English Bayou Mitigation Bank visit, fruitful

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above, Will Grant, left, discusses the wetland mitigation goals for one of converting the four large parcels of fallow row-crop fields that we visited last Tuesday, south of Lake Charles, Louisiana, into a Cajun Prairie habitat via local-genetic, source certified seed.

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building sustainable natural pyrogenic grassland wetlands through the only practical means available, local-genetic seed.

Reserve, La. pollinator field flower-window closes

First-frost lays down Marathon Oil Refinery’s pollinator garden. see smart-phone video of the garden last Sunday before the Monday morning freeze came, below.

 

Cool Grass Garden, Baton Rouge

The Lamar Advertising building on Corporate drive serves as a buffer between the busy boulevard and a hidden patio area for the employees and guests to relax under the shade of Live Oak trees.

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above, Design image by Mossop+Michaels Landscape Architecture, summer 2012

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above, the Lamar berm is about 150 across and 70 deep, rising about six feet from the natural ground plane. Muhly grass inflorescences of pinky-purple in flower last week, Tuesday. Pastorek Habitats consulted on soils and plants and the technical approaches – specifications, needed for executing the design. There are wildflowers in the planting that bloom in the summer, and we’re trying a new approach with the use of annuals this spring, attempting to get even more from this large low-input landscape.

 

Visit Crescent Park, New Orleans, its worth the time

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Had the pleasure of consulting on the process for developing the awesome native grass landscapes at Crescent Park back in 2012 and visited the gardens twice now, looking for glimpses of the contractor’s handiwork. I met with Casey Guidry Monday to talk about the present state of the meadows. She is interested in tying the prairie idea to education, with the idea of bringing school children to visit and incorporating some interpretive signage – information for those with a curiosity about the gardens.

The ornamental gardens, separate from the meadows, at Crescent are beautifully done. The architecture, creative hardscape walking surfaces, and its up-close views of the mighty Mississippi River are so uniquely and pleasantly layed-out with such inventive use of horticulture, including my favorite, the masses of Evergreen Golderod, Solidago sempervirens, which is nothing but a coastal weed (a good one). It’s super-prolific. Its pretty.. It’s easy to establish and in fact is showing up in adjacent gardens. Like I said, its a weed, but a good one. It’s a superduper pollinator plant that is super-easy from seed. Try it, you’ll like it.

check out a photo by Julia Lightner, of Elmer’s Island, near Grand Isle, Louisiana, with a tall marsh-meadow of Switch grass and Evergreen Goldenrod, below

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A spectaculary positioned bridge upon another bridge – you step up and over the rail tracks over the cool arched bridge at the entrance to the Park to see the massive twin Greater New Orleans Mississippi River Bridges in the distance, separated by the River’s vastness and the famous Algiers Point. The very spot of the River you see here is the deepest, at 180+ feet, on the west bank at just below the point, in the eddy of the point.

Wow! Wow, is right!

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Rusty red leaf color of Red Maples blends with the rusty red of the arched bridge, above

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black pervious paving works well with near-white monlithic slab-benches that stretch at angles, lengthwise across the park. The use of cobblestones and re-purposed brick accent areas along the walkways.

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Hargreaves and Associates, of San Fransisco, designed the Park. They resurected some wharf areas and left some derelict, leaving the character of the original site, a hundred year old former wharf-shipping dock-warehouse complex.

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I arrived early and saw only a few folks running, one guy was practising his trumpet, blaring it out onto the riverscape. How aprapos.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Crosby Arbo event/ February Prairie Gardening Conference in Louisiana

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.

http://crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu/july-calendar

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.

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/science-environment/article/Prairie-landowners-replant-to-make-room-for-quail-5928426.php

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.

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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.

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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.

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this is the same garden yesterday. I build leaning trellises so the cukes hang away from foliage and are easier to find.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Keeper of the Flame

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

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

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

Eunice prairie demonstration gardens tour, April 4

The Cajun Prairie folks will hold their spring wildflower tour on April 4th, celebrating the prairie, lead by the two pioneering biologists who started the Eunice Prairie Restoration garden nearly twenty eight years ago. In my opinion, this is one of the top 3 public garden destinations in the state of Louisiana. Society members burned the site for the first time in two years this February and we had an intense fire as a result. It is always a beautiful site to see the prairies during the first week of April, at peak spring bloom; not much created by man in these parts compares. Imagine ten acres of the most beautiful garden you can conceive of and thats pretty much what you’ll see at Eunice in April. Remember Dorothy and friends in The Wizard of Oz walking through the poppy fields? Well, its much better than that. Heavenly, hallowed ground it is.

From this site, this planting, much of the research on seeded prairie landscaping in the Gulf South has been garnered. Many scientific papers have been produced via this single experiment. And many prairies have been produced with seed from it. This is a preserve managed for the conservation of Louisiana Tall grass prairie genetic ecotypes. (click on photos to enlarge, photos by Dawn Allen McMillian and myself)

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sensitive briar, Mimosa quadravalvis

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Phlox pilosa color variations

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awesome rare wild onion, Allium mobilense

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blue eyed grass

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Cardinal on a burnt twig

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there are tens of thousands of Baptisia in the ten acre Eunice Restored Prairie, many of them unique, rare, natural hybrids

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Praying Mantis

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white false indigo, Baptisia alba

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Baptisia bracteata

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Gulf Fritillaries on passiflora vine

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The tour will begin at the Duralde restored prairie, a 350 acre prairie collaboration between the the Cajun Prairie Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lacassine NWR. There you can see lots of acreage of natural coastal Tallgrass prairie seeded in 1995-6 and transplanted with rescue plants over many years from the now extinct Frey prairie remnant, just south of Eunice by the Society and other volunteers. There you can walk through seeded experiments and demonstration gardens planted as a research project in 1998. There’s also the two-acre demonstration garden designed by Dr. Charles Allen and myself, which will is unique to the southeastern U.S., an individual prairie species garden with 10 x 12 feet rectangular plots for all of the conservative species of the prairie to be managed in a mowed- grid form. This area was burned this year, first time in a few.

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The 2-acre Duralde demo garden, November 2015. At two years old, its just a pup.

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Dr. Charles M. Allen, biologist, horticulturist, Sept 2014

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Dr. Malcolm F Vidrine, left, biologist, horticulturist, April 2014

Program for Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society

Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society Spring Meeting and Tours-Saturday, April 4, 2015

8:00 AM: Tours of Duralde Restored Prairie. Directions: Take LA 13 north out of Eunice and after crossing a bridge, go about 1.5 miles and turn left onto La 374. If coming from the north on La 13, about 6 miles south of Mamou, just past the Fire Station, turn right onto La 374. Follow La 374 west and it will take a sharp right then a sharp left. After straightening out from the sharp left, go about 0.5 miles and turn left at the first double intersection.  You will be turning left onto a gravel road that is Navy Road.

Navy Road is about 2 miles from La 13. Follow Navy Road and it will take a sharp right and then will start a sharp left but you will not turn at the left but drive straight into Duralde Prairie.

10:00 AM: Eunice Restored Prairies; meet at the corners of Martin Luther King and East Magnolia and enjoy the best restored prairie in the United States. This site is north of U.S. 190 and east of La 13. For those of you coming from the north on La 13, turn left (east) at the first paved road (East Magnolia) to the east after you cross the railroad tracks in Eunice. Go a couple of blocks and the prairie is on your left. For those coming from the east on U.S. 190 turn right (north) at the first red/green traffic light and follow Martin Luther King Drive for a couple of blocks and the prairie is on your left. For those coming from the west on U.S. 190, follow U.S. 190 through Eunice and after crossing a railroad track, go to the next red/green traffic light and turn left onto Martin Luther King Drive (See above). For those coming from the south on La 13, when you reach the stop sign, turn right onto Maple Ave. Follow Maple for about 3 or 4 blocks and at the 2nd four way stop sign, turn left onto Martin Luther King Drive. Follow this street across U.S. 190 and see above.

12 noon Lunch at Rocky’s Restaurant located at 1415 E Laurel Ave, Eunice, LA 70535 (337) 457-6999. and

Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society meeting.

And the presentation

“Bring Back the Monarchs” by the Bug Lady, Linda Auld of New Orleans

 

For more details about the meeting and or tours, contact Dr. Charles Allen 337-328-2252 or email native@camtel.net.

 

 

 

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.

Schizachyrium tenerum

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!!!!!

 

 

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 🙂

Mandeville’s new 1 acre Long Leaf Pine prairie preserve

Thanks to the forward thinkers at Mandeville City Hall and the Mandeville City Planning staff, the one acre island created (two islands, actually) by the roadway intersection at Highway 190 and the east Lake Ponchartrain Causeway approach will soon be completed. The planting is inspired by the Long Leaf pine prairies that were once so prevalent in the Parish and the entire Central Gulf Coastal region. Tim Bailey, a local landscape contractor and Prairie Dog, Inc. (Pastorek Habitats, LLC.), have been chosen to collaborate on the planting and management of the project. The planting is just east of the Causeway approach, check out the google maps to locate. You may have to click and enlarge the photos below, to see.

mandeville pine prairiemandeville

I’ve worked this past spring and summer, getting the prep work done and Tim has just completed the tree plantings; a few Live Oaks located in the outside of the pine prairie and Long Leaf Pine and Cherry Bark Oaks, chosen specifically because they would be a natural companion for the prairie and because they are pyrogenic (they love fire!). The plan is to use annual controlled burns as the preserve’s main management device.

Adam Perkins, a Landscape Architect based in Hammond (Dufreche and Perkins), and Maggie Gleason, Landscape-Urban Forestry Inspector for the City of Mandeville’s Planning Department collaborated on the planning and design of the landscape. Adam, Tim and I all worked together at Chapapeela Park prairie landscape in Hammond, which is a jewel in the crown of Hammond’s public Park system. Adam’s graphics are great. They explain the project very well.

Gotta give credit to Chuck Allen and Mac Vidrine, those crazy-brilliant-Cajun-Prairie-cats, because without the help of the how-to science they developed, the preserve would probably have become a large tree filled lawn that would have to be mowed in perpetuity, or something really boring like that. By approaching the “approach” this way, we get awesome wildflower diversity and eventually, fire on the ground!!! We also get another model of what can be done in the urban context with ecological landscaping; totally logical.

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bird’s eye view looking north (click on the photos to enlarge)

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looking southeast, lighter green is pine prairie, darker green is mowed turf grass

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looking south, with City of Mandeville City Administrative complex on right in white

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Signs identify the pine prairie area as “wildflower preserve”, a series of posts delineate the prairie from mowed turf for maintenance staff when they are mowing and to create a neat strip of highly managed vegetation that will contrast beautifully with the wildness of the blanket of prairie. Caroline Dorman, Louisiana’s pioneering promoter of “the wild things” would be proud!

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This is a big deal for Mandeville, ya’ll. And for us, too! . And for Pine prairie!!! We will be planting the first week of December and I hear that the local Louisiana DOT representative and some other City leaders want to be present at some point when we are seeding to see what we do and how we do it. There seems to be a lot of interest in this project. The City Leaders seem invested in more ways than one. Will keep you (all three of you) posted on progress, as it happens.

three good books on Long Leaf Pine and Pine prairies

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/892456.Looking_for_Longleaf

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13790960-longleaf-far-as-the-eye-can-see

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15809827-forgotten-grasslands-of-the-south