Monday, December 16, 2019

Louisiana iris species planting in the Northlake Nature Center near New Orleans

by Gary Salathe
The Northlake Nature Center is located near Mandeville, Louisiana, north of New Orleans.  It was established in 1982 by as a project of the Greater Covington Junior Service League as an independent non-profit corporation directed to preserve, study, and publicly exhibit the natural and cultural resources of the Florida Parishes in southeastern Louisiana.
The 400 acre Nature Center offers visitors the opportunity to experience three different ecosystems: hardwood forest, pine-hardwood forest and pond-swamp. The ponds in the cypress swamp area are the result of active beaver dams.
Natural, native I. virginica irises are found throughout the Center.
On March 4, 2017 volunteers from the Greater New Orleans Iris Society (GNOIS), Gary Salathe and Richard and Carol Drouant, planted donated Louisiana irises species I. giganticaerulea and I. fulva in the cypress swamp area of the Nature Center.  When they first approached Rue Mcneill, Executive Director of the Nature Center,  about planting some Louisiana iris species among the many wild I. virginica irises already growing there she was very enthusiastic and said the GNOIS could plant as many as they wanted.  She also told them that she hoped that the society would eventually plant all five Louisiana iris species.
After finding what they believed were the right combination of wetness, soil type and sunlight, the trio of GNOIS members planted about forty I. giganticaerulea and fifty I. fulva plants in two separate locations. The irises were donated by A Louisiana Pond.


I. fulva
With the satisfaction and euphoria of successfully completing the planting they decided then and there to commit to eventually get all five species planted in the Nature Center.  Rue quickly accepted the offer!
The irises planted that day may be first ever Louisiana irises to grow there in the one hundred years, or so, that the cypress swamp has been in existence.
The shoreline of the beaver pond in the Nature Center is home to many I. viginica irises.

I. virginica in the cypress/gum tree swamp area. Although I. virginica is native to the north shore and other parts of central and north Louisiana it is not a Louisiana iris species.  Its range is through the east and central United States and up into Canada.

Rue McNeill and her rescue dog, Sam, shown next to volunteer Richard Drouant, were the cheering squad as Richard and two other GNOIS members planted the Louisiana irises. She is encouraging the GNOIS to plant all five Louisiana iris species there and has offered the group any assistance that they may need to accomplish this.

She also told the group about another area of the 400 acre tract of land that has ponds. She offered those areas to the GNOIS as places where species irises could be planted for the purpose of propagating them.

For more information on the five Louisiana iris species:

Gary Salathe and Richard Drouant up to their knees in snake country.  Luckily, the temperatures were cool enough that day so the snakes and alligators were not active.

GNOIS member and volunteer Gary Salathe.

Many of the I. giganticaerulea were planted right next to one of the boardwalk bridges in the front part of the Nature Center. People on the bridge will be able to view the irises from only about 10' away.

The I. giganticaerulea iris is one of five Louisiana iris species. It is also known as the “Giant Blue Iris” and is the state wildflower. Once found in abundance in southeast Louisiana marshes, it has been decimated over the last one hundred years by salt water intrusion through man-made canals and hurricane flood waters.

The site the group chose for the I. fulva planting faces south and should get direct sunlight for a few hours each day during the summer. The open spot was likely created when the tree shown in the photo fell down, which created an opening in the tree canopy. The irises were planted among cypress tree knees in about 1" of water and mucky soil. The site is only 6' away from the trail.

Richard and Carol Drouant at the site of the I. fulva planting.  About fifty I. fulva irises were planted there. 

I. fulva is one of five Louisiana iris species. Once found in abundance in south/central Louisiana swamps and roadside ditches, it has been decimated over the last one hundred years by encroaching development and the use of herbicides by the State of Louisiana highway maintenance crews to keep ditches clear of vegetation.

Editor's Note: The World of Irises is delighted to have this guest blog by Gary Salathe who lives north of New Orleans with his wife next to a pond that they have turned into a showcase of Louisiana irises call A Louisiana Pond.  It was on the 2018 AIS tour of gardens at the national convention.  He is a volunteer and member of the board of directors of the Greater New Orleans Iris Society. As a part owner of a residential construction company, irises are his hobby until his retirement and then they will become his vocation.  He is interested in the idea of raising Louisiana iris species into areas that now have much improved hurricane protection levees in Southeast Louisiana.

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