Iberia Parish’s Matt Conn makes New York Times with his wetland restoration project + 120 acres, dripping, oozing in wondrous herbicidedness + a holy-cow prairie remnant!!!

I was treated to the wondrous sight Tuesday of the project property where the mother load, 700 pounds, of wet-coastal prairie seed, seed that I have been collecting this summer, will be planted. The vegetation was nice and toasty brown, the color of awesome death. Yummy!! Boy did this make me (and my seed) happy. ūüôā

After all, why would anyone work so hard and stake so much investment in money, seed and time only to see in three or so years that it all was wasted because the right prep work wasn’t done? I would rather see the weedy vegetation totally-wasted, and my seed, so precious and rare, and so hard to acquire,¬†given a proper chance for survival. No, this seed deserves an opportunity for a long and healthy life.

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above, looking west from the center of the property in southern Calcasieu Parish (click pic to enlarge)

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above, looking north ……and into the bright future…

After the visit to the planting¬†site, I was then lead by¬†a good friend and mentor across the creek (the Calcasieu River) to see what he said was definitively “the most significant coastal prairie site in the state”. This coming from a fellow who at his early age, has just about seen it all. Pretty sure he was right with that claim, after seeing it with my own eyes. It was an old cattle farm property that had never been plowed, complete with monstrous pimple mounds, low prairie, and an occasional marias, all filled with premier prairie vegetation and very little, almost no, foreign invaders. On the pimple mounds were the high and dry species, some common in¬†the Looziana sandy piney woods. At the base of and surrounding the mounds were the heavy-soil low-land species. And in the marias were the marginal aquatic and aquatic species, all thick like hair on a dog’s back. We walked through dense vegetation. We worked for our reward since it was a good, hot day albeit a bit over cast and a long way to go. We¬†made a large loop with many smaller dipseydoodle-loops through what I’m guessing was about¬†ten to fifteen acres or more of land and saw only a small portion of what was there to be seen. When we were done, we were both dripping wet, soaked to our boots. Had a good work-out/ detox! Spent over¬†two hours ooh-ing and ah-ing. I am not sure who was more excited,¬†he¬†or¬†I. In April, he and his colleagues had used fire in the way of controlled burn, to breathe new life into this amazingly diverse prairie remnant, something it had not seen for many many years.

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My friend Chris in Little Bluestem grass, with tall, wiry spikes of Florida Paspalum in foreground. On right, the milkweed Asclepias obovata, with the foliage (above my hand) of Twisted leaf Goldenrod, Solidago tortifolia (click on pics to enlarge ’em, ya’ll)

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Twisted leaf Goldenrod just barely coming into color on left (it was stunningly electric), and the chalky blue of Andropogon virginicus var. glaucopsis, Blue leafed Broomsedge. Can you say drool?

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above, a sea of Solidago tortifolia and Liatris pychnostachya, and an odd-ball colored Pychnostach of thousands there, a lighter shade of pnerple!

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Chris, wading through the pycnostach, and the whiteness of Eupatorium hissopifolia on right (a pod of passion vine in my hand). num num!

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Pinky-purple Muhly grass in color with a crispy-black skeletal remains of a juvenile wax myrtle in foreground/ right

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the daisy-like Bidens aristosa, umbels of twisted leaf Goldenrod, spikey liatris and barely visible naked inflorescences of Florida Paspalum

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above, yours truly in a marias pothole, about an acre in diameter. I went straight for the center where the Eliocharis quadrangularis was. How cool is this folks?!!!! Water was about six inches deep throughout the pothole.

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dried up leaves of American Lotus,¬†amongst the dense, lush foliage of Panicum hemitomum. “Lotus in a prairie”, said the Zen master.

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Chris and I agreed that we both had never seen anything close to this size of a stand of the delightful¬†mint, Hyptis alata, Cluster Bushmint. This is a highly significant plant, attractive to numerous nectaring insects. This patch was about two acres in size. Woah! We were both likes little kids in a candy store. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We had found heaven on Earth.

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I spotted an anomaly out of the ten thousand Hyptus plants, a double flowering form that stuck out like a sore thumb, above

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Eupatorium rotundifolium, insect airport

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Here you can barely make out a green mound on which Chris stands. A pimple mound that rose about six feet above the surrounding area, supporting unique vegetation. Dude.

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No need for me to dream tonight! (me and my grin, a selfie, through a fogged-up smart phone lens)

Folks!!!! check out The New York Times article on Iberian Matt Conn. Matt bought seed from us last year for part of his 60 acre wetland restore. A well-done article on a cool young dude with lots of ambition. see the link below. read it and weep.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/us/a-hobbyist-whose-workshop-sits-among-the-cypress-trees.html?_r=0

also check out Matt’s blog ¬†¬†http://turtleboyandthebirds.blogspot.com/

 

The wonders of Lance-leaf Blanket Flower

I walked with a client the other day in a field planted last winter with a Long Leaf pine herbaceous understory wildflower seed mix. It was a great walk and we got to see¬†about a dozen species of high conservatism, juvenile in stature. Some though, had flowers and for me, that is always exciting. Not too shabby for a first year walk. ūüôā

One of the plants we happened upon was Gailardia aesivalis, the Lanceleaf Blanketflower, some folks call it Yellow Indian Blanket. This is not to be confused with the more coastal and gaudi-colored Indian Blanket Gailardia pulchella. These are plants worlds apart, in my mind.

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What do you do with the orangey red and bright yellow of Indian Blanket? umm, Not much when you’re a plant snob like me…

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This, my friend, is a classy gal, the most common form of Yellow Indian Blanket or Lanceleaf Blanket Flower, Gailardia aestivalis variety aestivalis. If you’re lucky, you have her growing out in the back forty or right at the front door.

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above: a more rare sub-species for Louisiana (and elsewhere) is Gailardia aestivalis variety flavovirens, the Yellow Indian Blanket with an obvious and pronounced yellow central disc. This is found in Vernon Parish and Allen Parish, also in the Kieffer prairies, and in some Parishes in upper-central Loosianna. Quite a find indeed.

The common Lanceleaf Blanket Flower is a most desirable plant to have in the garden or the natural meadow. It happens to be a very long blooming, one I consider to be the longest blooming of all of our native wildflowers. It also has the characteristic of dropping its petals and holding the rounded, maroon-wine colored central disc, which is very ornamental itself and persists for a long while until seed is fully formed. It is extremely adaptable to a variety of soils. In Louisiana, you’ll find it in the Cajun Prairie, the piney woods, the clay of Kieffer prairies, Copenhagen prairie: an amazingly adaptable thing it is. Just give it a full day of sunlight, step on it every now and then and if you can, burn it. Its a pyrogenic plant. It loves to go up in flames!

It is a significant nectar plant for numerous butterflies, skippers, and other beneficial insects. And because of that, it is popular for predators, who hang out in wait for the nectaring tribes to come moseying along.

This plant maybe wouldn’t make it in the dog eat dog world of horticulture, but for the work of the good folks at the Steven F Austin University Horticulture Department and its associated¬†Piney Woods Native Plant Center. This is due mostly to the keen eyes of the amazing forth-degree master, Dr. David Creech and his black-belt side-kick, Greg Grant.

Dr. Creech and Mr. Grant have been working with a rare species of Blanket flower, Gailardia aesitvalis variety winkleri, a wonderfully clear white variation found only in a few counties along the Texas Coastal prairie. What a fabulous thing it is for them to have found this plant! From their selection work, they have produced a significant horticultural introduction, a cultivar called Grape Sensation.

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the very rare Gailardia aestivalis var winkleri, White Blanketflower

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photos above, of Grape Sensation Blanketflower at the J.C. Rauston Arboretum, Raleigh, North Carolina. (click on the photos to enlarge them)

About fifteen years ago, I introduced one of the first passalong plants of winkleri from Dr. Creech via Peter Loos, into¬†my meadow field in Mississippi. I forget now what color form it actually was that I was given. But today you can walk through the area where that plant was planted and see a whole variety of color forms, plants that seeded since, parented from the original. There’s white, pale lavender, darker lavender, deep redish, and so on, so forth. Its a wonderful experience if I say so myself. Come see them when you can. And get some Lanceleaf Blanket Flower! Find it at the upcoming plant sale at Steven F Austin or at specialty nurseries like Tony Avent’s Plant Delights nursery, through mail order.

Pineywoods plant sale!!!! October 1 2014         http://www.sfasu.edu/5711.asp

Plant Delights offer of Grape Sensation http://www.plantdelights.com/Gaillardia-aestivalis-var-winkleri-Grape-Sensation-for-sale/Buy-Grape-Sensation-Blanket-Flower/

do a search on Gailardia aestivalis winkleri and see a pdf article by Steven F Austin University. ¬† for some reason I couldn’t link it up here.

 

http://www.lsuagcenter.com/news_archive/2014/September/headline_news/Mesa-gaillardia-named-Louisiana-Super-.htm

peace!

L-DOT decides that Big Al needs a prairie pal

Thanks to the brilliance and foresight of ULL Professor Jim Foret and his former student, La state Transportation Department supervisor Ryan Dugas, the New Iberia-Lafayette area will be the recipients of a cool 1.3 acre Coastal Tall grass Prairie planting just next to Big Al, the massive Live Oak that was relocated a couple of years ago during construction along highway 190.

Ryan, Jim, and I met in the spring to discuss a plan of action to join these two in the holy bond of marriage and since then Ryan has taken steps that will prepare the way for planting this winter. Big Al the Live Oak was moved only because folks came out of the woodwork to fight to save him and as a result, two years later, we have a well-settled-in friend who seemed a bit lonesome up on his knoll. Jim and Ryan took it upon themselves to remedy that lonesomeness. In the spring and summer next year a prairie will begin to emerge as a life companion for Mr. Al. I couldn’t think of a more compatible couple, …those two lovebirds! ūüôā

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above: Prof. Jim Foret, left, walks up to a very Big Al, with Dr Charles Allen, to check Al’s pulse, a year or so after the move, in spring 2013 (click to enlarge the photo)

The prairie planting will be done just east of Al, in a 1.3 acre triangle shaped arrangement in a pre-Christmas marriage ceremony. Pastorek Habitats, LLC will provide the seed for the awesome planting. All Louisiana’s folks are invited to be witnesses to this nuptial blessing. Here is one of the signs made recently¬†to be placed along the highway shortly after their honeymoon is over. (photo courtesy of Ryan, via Jim)

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I hope to see ya’ll at the ceremony! Peace.

PH awarded Coastal Prairie Wetland banking seed contract!

Pastorek Habitats, LLC has been awarded a contract to collect wetland prairie species seed for two 100+ acre wetland banking properties in Cameron Parish. This is something I have been interested in for many years, working with Coastal Prairie (Cajun Prairie) wetland species. So, lately I have been in my shrimp boots(Hackberry Nikes) sloshing in sweltering ditches and bogs¬†for six or eight hours a day, hand-gathering and then drying and processing the crops that are in season. ¬† …enjoying every minute of it.

The restorations will provide wetland functions and values to the land. These include:

  • Restoring bottomland hardwood and coastal prairie/freshwater marsh wetlands
  • Increasing the quality of habitat for native and Nearctic-Neotropical speices
  • Increasing watershed water quality by retiring existing agricultural land from agronomic and livestock production

The restoration will be accomplished with the following:

  • Long-term protection with a perpetual conservation servitude
  • Establishment of maintenance and protection funds in perpetuity

Pretty cool, huh?!

Most all of my restoration work until this project has been in upland prairie species. This opportunity not only adds an element of new car smell, it also gives me the opportunity to learn a whole list of species that I have for the most part been overlooking all these years simply because the focus was up-out of the bogs and ditches, so to speak: on the higher ground. I couldn’t be doing the work without expert taxonomists who are on board to help identify what it is that I can’t. Plant geeks rock!!!!! What’s particularly¬†exciting for us is that these two projects have lead to another consulting opportunity.

Yipp-ieee!!!

None of this could have been made possible but for the knowledge I have gained hanging out with some of the most interesting and knowledgeable folks in the industry, ecologists across this great nation, but especially my local prairie mentors and fellow Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society members, Dr. Charles M. Allen, Malcom F. Vidrine, Larry Allain, and a bunch of other regionally local folks who have spent many-a-day focused on restoring the prairies of Louisiana and Texas. You know who you are. Also, credit is due to the love of my life and partner-in-(ecological)crime, Candi Pastorek, the brains of the business.

This type of landscape construction and management provides an insurance policy of sorts for wildlife, for the future sustainability of species that are increasingly under pressure due to human activity(humans: we ain’t no good ūüė¶ ). It also provides prototype models, mock-ups, that either prove or disprove different techniques for seed collecting, planting and managing the different variations¬†of prairie and marsh habitat in our coastal environment. We at PH are doing our part to insure that¬†future generations¬†get to enjoy and appreciate the wealth of biodiversity¬†that we have in our lifetime.

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above: last Sunday’s photo of the Marc Pastorek family, with five of the (currently) nine grandkids (if you include Monty the wonder-granddog). My two son’s brides(pictured on the couch), are due with an¬†additional boy each, at the end of the year. Go team Pastorek!

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. ūüôā

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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’ science mentioned in Landscape Architecture magazine!

I am a big fan of the mowed lawn. No, seriously, I am. I just think we have enough of it, is all. The latest¬†estimate is that there are 50,000 square miles of lawn in America. Thats an area the size of the state of Louisiana. 50,000 square miles of lawn with an estimated additional 600 square miles coming on line annually. Holy cow! Thats a lot of mowing, ya’ll.

The latest issue of Landscape Architecture magazine features an article written by Thomas Christopher titled Turf Trails: Grass that needs less mowing and water is a project for scientists across the country. In it, Tom discusses new up-and-coming ecologically logical options to the American obsession with the clipped lawn. Tom is a horticulturist who lives in Middletown, Connecticut and runs a business called Smart Lawn. He specializes in sustainable lawn design. Go figure.

When I spoke at the NDAL in New London in January, Tom came up to me after to pick my brain about lawn alternatives for the southern U.S. He and I had a few more conversations during the course of the conference and that lead to him mentioning our uber-cool work with a Gulf Coastal version of the low-mow lawn, in the article.

This is a big deal for a little business like ours, getting mentioned in such a prestigious design mag. Aren’t we something! Ha, I will try not to let it go to my head.

Main thing is, there’s a revolution of sorts occurring in the US of A. It gives me comfort when I see the young folks involved in horticulture and conservation doing work to change our ‘industrial complex’ complex. There will always be, I suppose, those who have a need to mow every inch of their property. But I feel sure that time will heal this affliction¬†so prevalent among us. There’s hope for the future, folks!

Wish I could post the article Tom wrote here but there’s that there copy right thing…..

Anyway, to change the subject, I saw some cool wildlife stuff last week. really cool.

So I am photographing Silphium perfoliatum in the yard the other day just after a good rain and I could hear the frogs in the background making their noises. One group would announce,¬†“shallow, shallow!” and the the other group would respond by saying “deep, deep!”. That idea struck me just about the time I heard a confusing noise behind me. I turned around in time to see what was clearly the back end of a hawk flying away from me, just twenty feet away. When I saw it, it was just taking flight, a few feet off of the ground. I couldn’t see if he or she had caught anything or not but I haven’t see that cute little bunny rabbit that’s been my garden buddy¬†every day for the last few weeks since the hawk fluttered away into the sky. hmmm. awesome.

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Silphium perfoliatum is a robust, large leafed thing

 

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gets its name from the perforated leaf joint. My friend Gail Barton says birds will drink water collected in the perferated “cup”

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If you don’t know of Silpiums, take a gander, since they are excellent ornamental herbs and fantastic wildlife plants. There are many native species in this region. I have a collection of the regional species in my home meadow.¬†The seed of Rosinweeds are high in oil content, which is like caviar to birds.

Was at City Park in New Orleans Tuesday mowing the meadow there so we can over-seed it¬†next week. While I was mowing, I noticed a hawk fly down, and obviously got a bite to eat. Up into a big oak it flew. Lunch of a field mouse or something very small. This continued for a couple of hours. That bird ate up some vittles, ya’ll! At one point, he or she was lighted on a branch of a Hackberry tree about ten feet off the ground. I decided I would ease over to get as close as I could so I could get a pic. So I did. I would make long turn-arounds and swing by closer each time. The hawk just sat there watching me each time. I made my final pass¬†within 15 feet of this incredibly wild bird and it didn’t flinch. Just kind of gave me a “thanks for dinner” nod and when I swung back for an even closer attempt, it flew off and went back up to the safety of¬†the big oak. Being anything but a birder, I was able because of my repetitive passes to visually lock-in its color characteristics and when I got home and did some research, I, by process of elimination(and guesswork) determined that it probably was a Red Shouldered Hawk. What a beauty it was.

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ole’ fat and sassy Red Shoulder showing off fine plumage and upstanding character (click on the photos to enlarge them)

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swooping away, it went back up to the open space in the big oak

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the meadow, ready for seed

Get out and enjoy this last cool snap because, like, next week it’ll be hot as Hades and it’ll probably stay that way for a long while.

Hope to see you all (all three of you) at the field day at the seed farm this Saturday. Be there or be square!   http://www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu/pages/calmay.php

 

build it and they will come.

It took years for Blazing star(Liatris) to really get going in my seed meadow gardens. For years I saw no sign of the plant but lately I’ve noticed not only many of them but lots of butterflies and skippers feeding on them. I was at the farm yesterday doing insect survey work for a couple of hours and there were hundreds butterflies flittering back and forth through the field: sulfurs, fritillaries, a few species of swallowtails and several species of¬†skippers, all sporting big grins. It was pretty distracting actually since I am all enamored with them and would stop and photograph occasionally. There were lots of species of bees and wasps and other assorted nectar fans. And there were predators, waiting in the flowers for a meaty delight to come fluttering along. I will never for get how I saw once, a butterfly gracefully flying from flowers to flower and then he began acting kind of oddly as it landed on a nearby flower. On closer inspection, I found a praying mantis devouring that sucker like it was a barbecued rib! yum yum! creepy, actually.

Most people don’t realize how very little vegetation is left to support these specialized critters. Most of the “wild” areas that you think are “wild” maybe be so, but the species diversity is most often on a level that would be considered poor to awful, and support very little wildlife diversity. We humans(some of us) are just getting the fact that, despite biologists talking and writing about it for nearly 100 years, our natural areas are in dire need of our help.

I saw a recent presentation by local author Charlotte Seidenberg at the Longue View House and Gardens and she quoted Mark Plotkin, the famous ethnobotanist and ecologist and native New Orleanian, who said¬†“Conservation is not just about protecting exotic species in distant national parks–it should begin in our backyard.” Charlotte’s book on this subject is a wonderful piece of work(off the chain, as the youngsters say) and one that applies specifically to Louisiana and the immediate central gulf coastal rim. check it out…”The Wildlife Garden: Planning Backyard Habitats”. ¬† ¬† http://www.amazon.com/The-Wildlife-Garden-Planning-Backyard/dp/0878058354

(click on photos to enlarge)

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above: swallowtail butterfly nectaring on blazing star at Meadowmakers Farm, Pearl River County, Mississippi

We ecologists are slowly making some headway in bringing-awareness in this department. Over the years, I have seen people find interest and enjoyment in the “wild things”, and that is encouraging.

What’s particularly encouraging for me is the interest that folks have in restoring the complex systems of habitat that once were, on properties big and small. This subject has been a passion of mine for many of years, as it is for a whole slew of folks that have guided and helped me in my work and in building my business.

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above: many folks showed up for the filed trip at the Farm this past May 4. It was a combined trip with the Louisiana and Mississippi Native Plant Societies. click on photo to enlarge.  photo by Dr. Tammy Greer

Dr. Charles Allen showed up for the field day and was kind enough to lead us through the fields, interpreting what he saw. People and critters came from near and far to make the proverbial scene.

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above: one happy upside down nectar-sucking bee on antelope horn milkweed, at the Farm

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