Monday, June 11, 2018

The Black Swamp Boardwalk Tour in Baton Rouge, LA

by Ron Killingsworth

The joint American Iris Society (AIS) and Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI) convention in New Orleans was a smashing success.  On Friday we toured the Baton Rouge Burden Museum and Gardens in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, about an hour drive north of New Orleans, LA.

Our tour buses arrived at the Baton Rouge Burden Museum and Gardens early Friday morning.  Four buses full of iris lovers crowded into the registration/gift show area and were treated to a short video on the history of the museum and gardens.  Next to the gift shop was a pen with two “Texas Longhorn” cows.  I’ve seen a lot of Texas longhorns before but these two had extra long horns!

Texas "Longhorn" steer

Texas "Longhorn"
While most people chose to walk around in the gardens and to tour the historical buildings scattered around, a group of us “able to walk quite a distance” were led by Patrick O’Connor on a mile or so walk to the Black Swamp boardwalk entrance.  There is a small pond, located at the entrance of the boardwalk through the swamp.  We did lots of “picture taking” there as there were a few Louisiana irises growing in the edge of the pond.

Iris lovers walking toward the Black Swamp tour entrance

Small pond at entrance to Black Swamp

Louisiana irises grown in small pond

Louisiana irises growing at back of pond with beehives in left background

Patrick O'Connor prepares to lead us into the swamp!
We walked on to the entrance of the boardwalk and walked along the extensive walkway through the “swamp”.  The swamp is a rain-fed swamp and is believed to have originally been a Mississippi flood fed swamp.  The swamp is no longer fed by flood waters since the building of the many levees in the area. Although the swamp is called the “Black Swamp”, the water was not that dark, instead, sort of brown from the tannins from the Black Tupelo tree.

On the boarwalk in the pond with Black Tupelo trees in forground
 I understand that until recently there were no Louisiana irises to be found in this swamp, but thanks to the efforts of the Greater New Orleans Iris Society (GNOIS) and especially Benny Trahan, many rhizomes of three species of Louisiana irises were planted in the swamp in 2015.  There were not a lot of blooming irises to be seen but when a clump was found, everyone crowded around for pictures. 

iris.giganticaerulea growing near boardwalk
 One clump of blue i.giganticaerulea received a lot of admiration and a clump of i.nelsonii about 30 feet out into the swamp was really beautiful, especially if you had a telephoto lens on your camera.  Another clump of white i.giganticaerulea was very close to the boardwalk.

iris.nelsonii growing in Black Swamp

iris.giganticaerulea (white) growing in swampy waters

Louisiana irises growing near boardwalk
 No “critters” were noted during the walk and only one snake was found, up in a tree, but either the snake was dead or fast asleep.  It was a very pleasant walk along the boardwalk and the two varieties of tupelo trees were evident everywhere you looked.  We have tupelo trees on Caddo Lake in NW Louisiana and I know they produce a fruit much loved by squirrels. We also saw one Magnolia tree just starting to bloom.

Walking along the boardwalk deep in the "Black Swamp"!
While we did not see a vast amount of irises, the ones we saw were beautiful in their native habitat.  Hopefully more irises can be planted here in years to come.  If you visit the museum, you can park closer to the swamp entrance and save the walk.

To learn more about Louisiana irises visit the Society for Louisiana Irises.  To learn more about the American Iris Society visit their website.

For many more pictures of Louisiana irises growing in south Louisiana, visit the Greater New Orleans Iris Society.  

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