Monday, October 25, 2021

Hurricane Ida Plows Through the Center of S.E. Louisiana Iris Territory

By Gary Salathe

In my May 17th World of Irises posting, I wrote about the iris bloom at projects that the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) had completed for the 2020–2021 fall and winter Louisiana iris planting season. We had very good bloom even though some of the locations experienced what we thought were tough conditions from Hurricane Zeta.

Hurricane Zeta hit southeast Louisiana on October 28, 2020. The day before it made landfall, its intensity rapidly ramped up from tropical storm to a Category 3 hurricane. The storm moved quickly through the area, reducing the height of its storm-surge tides and making damage in southern Louisiana less widespread. However, the intense damage caused by the storm in areas just east of New Orleans caught everyone by surprise.

LICI’s main function is to relocate Louisiana irises threatened with destruction to safer areas where the public can see them growing and blooming in their native habitat. The best locations have raised boardwalks that allow the public to walk above a swamp or marsh to safely experience the habitat. These are typically in area wildlife refuges and public nature parks.

The damage caused by Hurricane Zeta to our iris plantings at the boardwalks was very minimal, except for one location that was directly in the path of the hurricane eye-wall. We figured, “Well, you only get a direct hit from a strong hurricane once every few years, so we are likely good for a while before another one comes along.” WRONG!

On August 29, 2021, 16 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina came close to wiping southeast Louisiana off of the map with 28-foot high storm-surge tides, Hurricane Ida made its appearance in our area. While Hurricane Zeta and Katrina stayed on a track to the east of New Orleans, Hurricane Ida’s center traveled to the west of New Orleans. This put the stronger south and southeasterly winds that are found on the east side of any hurricane directly over iris country in southeast Louisiana.


Louisiana iris distribution and recent hurricanes in Southeastern Louisiana: Hurricane Ida's path is shown in red. The winds on the right side of every hurricane blow from the south and then the east as the storm approaches. This map shows why the high storm-surge tide was so destructive compared to other storms to a huge area of marsh and swamp that is home to the Louisiana iris species I. giganticaerulea (shown in blue). The city of New Orleans is on the south side of Lake Pontchartrain.

The reports have been slowly coming in on the damage to the boardwalks and irises in our projects. It seems that even though the damage to the irises has been far worse than from Hurricane Zeta, none of the stands of irises in these projects have been totally wiped out, as the photos below show. However, at the Town of Jean Lafitte boardwalk, which likely experienced the worst damage, we still aren’t sure if there are many irises left. In this location, irises are mixed in with tall grasses in the swamp away from the boardwalk, so the irises are hard to see.


The town of Jean Lafitte elevated boardwalk before and after volunteers from LICI and Common Ground Relief cleared off the storm debris.


Although all of this sounds like we are optimistic about the impact on the irises in our projects, we are not optimistic for the irises in the entire area of southeast Louisiana. Tens of thousands of the I.giganticaerulea species of Louisiana iris growing on floating land south of New Orleans were likely destroyed when Hurricane Ida carved off huge chunks that floated out into open salt water. The result is that we have likely just lived through an event here that has done more catastrophic damage to the wild irises of southeast Louisiana in one day than any other event that has happened in the last sixty years.



These before and after photos show just one area of floating land, called flotant, that was broken free because of Hurricane Ida's winds and floated away. It is likely that there were large stands of I. giganticaerulea growing in the flotant.


This photo shows an area of flotant that has broken free and was seen floating out into the open waters of Barataria Bay. It had been established for so long that trees had rooted in and grown on it.

The eye of Hurricane Ida passed directly over the town of Lockport's elevated boardwalk, which is the site of one of LICI's restoration projects. LICI's local volunteer, Mike Glaspell, headed up the effort to clean off and repair the boardwalk. The irises survived the storm and are doing well.



The irises in our Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge project have survived the hurricane, but are struggling with a naturally occurring fungus called "rust". The picture on the right was taken in April.


The Northlake Nature Center had significant damage to their stands of old growth hardwood trees. The high water from this year's rains has threatened the irises. Hurricane Ida's heavy rain arrived just as the water level in the swamp was finally coming down. 
The picture on the right was taken in April.


The irises in our Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge project have survived the hurricane, but are struggling after dealing with high water from the heavy rains this year. The water level was finally dropping when the rains from Hurricane Ida raised it up again. The picture on the right was taken in April.

The area shown above is part of a LICI iris restoration project in Fontainebleau State Park. It was totally submerged by 3 feet of water from the storm-surge tide of Hurricane Ida. Being under water actually protected the irises from the wind and waves. All of the irises appear to have survived. The picture on the right was taken in April.

Hurricane Ida's high tides impacted the Joyce Wildlife Refuge boardwalk, a location for one of our most successful iris restoration projects. Most of the irises that were growing in the semi-liquid swamp muck have disappeared. We are hopeful that they were just pushed further back into the swamp and will reestablish themselves there. The irises that were growing on the flotant did well. They likely floated up with the storm-surge and settled back down intact once the tide went out. The photo on the left was taken in April. The same area is shown on the right one week after the storm. A recent visitor to the boardwalk told us the irises are starting to peek up from under the debris at that spot.

There are still a few areas where we have projects that we have not been able to visit yet due to their still needing to be cleared of debris. Like everyone else in southeast Louisiana, we will pick ourselves up and carry on with our work. We are all motivated by our love for Louisiana and a desire to do our small part in preserving the plants and habitat that makes this state so special.



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Monday, October 18, 2021

Dry Creek Garden, Union City, California

by Jeff Bennett

I have been writing a series of articles about the Dry Greek Garden. In my first article, I introduced myself and my history with irises. In the second, I introduced readers to the land that encompasses Dry Creek Garden and its acquisition by the May family and then passed down to become a part of the Meyers’ estate. The third described the transition from cattle ranch to a summer retreat. In this fourth installment, I will share some of the parties that were held at Dry Creek Garden commencing in 1952 and ending in the final summertime bash in 1972.

The gatherings at Dry Creek were held to benefit the Alameda Welfare Council, which raised money for the needy in the Alameda area and still exists to this day. The Meyers sisters were very generous to local causes and loaned their ranch for the annual events for the Council which brought in thousands of dollars to help families with physical, psychological and monetary needs. They were well known not only for their kindness in helping the disadvantaged, but also for giving generously of their resources and time.

Themed parties at the Dry Creek Garden were planned well in advance of their August date. The themes varied from things like national origin, Gold Rush Days, Colonial, Victorian and the color pink. Yes, pink! For the pink party, they planted the grounds with all kinds pink flowers available at the time. I’m guessing they may have even found a pink iris or two to plant. Everything was pink, even the clothing to wear was to be pink. This made for fun times for the ladies who gathered.

During these events, a box lunch was provided with soft drinks. Booths were set up with items for sale, and many of them were hand made. Jams, pastries, fruit, clothing, and crafts were offered for sale. A nursery area sold plants nurtured by Council members. Most items were sold out at the annual events. With 400 to 700 women attending, there’s no reason why there should not be a sell out of the items.

The pictures in this article are from published newspaper periodicals in the Oakland Tribune under the sections of Women’s World and Feminine Sphere. The Alameda Times-Star also published reviews of the events under Social Whir. According to newspaper reviews, some party goers drove over 50 miles to attend the annual event and the line of cars parked down Mission Boulevard was over a half mile long. No tickets were sold at the gate—tickets had be purchased in advance. The pictures show that all the ladies wore dresses and fancy shoes. This was the highlight social event of the area every summer.

Gardens were planted and full of summer blooming flowers: dahlias, roses, zinnias, daylilies, hydrangeas, daisies, begonias, fuchsias, hollyhocks, snapdragons, petunias, and others. Events started at 11 am and ended at 3 pm. Some years, it actually rained and thundered during the event. These days, it would be quite rare for it to rain in August. During parties at Dry Creek, visitors were free to roam the approximately 4 acre site, see the fruit trees of citrus, apples, plums, almonds, avocado, peaches and persimmons. They would also play bridge or other card games. A dip in the swimming pool was also allowed for any that wanted to.

The last of these parties was held at Dry Creek Garden in 1972. Dr. Edith Meyers became ill and passed away in 1971 at 70 years of age. With Edith gone, the remaining sisters, Mildred and Jeanette, decided to donate the 1,200-acre ranch to the East Bay Regional Park District. They kept the cottage and garden as their summer home. Mildred, the architect, passed away in 1986 at age 88. In the later years, Jeanette no longer traveled to the garden as often. Jeanette, the gardener, passed away in November of 1993. In their will, the final 60-acre parcel of Dry Creek Garden was passed to East Bay Regional Park in 1995 to be preserved for the public to enjoy.

It took until 2007 to get repairs done to the cottage and property to open to the public. Thirty-five years after the last party in 1972, Dry Creek Garden was once again open to the public for all to enjoy. Today, both parcels of land are enjoyed  by hundreds of people on a daily basis. To this day, the 1,260 acres that Mildred, Edith and Jeanette donated is the largest piece of land ever donated to the 121,000+ acre park system called the East Bay Regional Park District.

In my next and final article, I will bring you to the development of the iris gardens at Dry Creek that were established for the 2019 American Iris Society Convention, “The Sun Sets on Rainbows”, headquartered in San Ramon, California




Monday, October 11, 2021

Photo Essay: Let There Be Light!

by Mike Unser

One of the joys of iris photography for me is capturing the sunlight playing thru the blooms. It is especially dramatic just after sunrise or before sunset when the light comes in at an angle, making for intense colors and shadows. 

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the 2021 bloom season featuring sunlight.

'Treasure Island'

'Kathryn Fryer'




Read more about these irises using the following links to the Iris Encyclopedia:

Monday, October 4, 2021

(Still) Searching for Iris innominata

 by Kathleen Sayce

A conversation with a lapsed and now renewed member of Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris (SPCNI) reminded me of my long search for Iris innominata by seed and plant form for my own garden.
I. innominata x ? in my garden

In 2010, I joined the SPCNI field trip to southwest Oregon, where I was able to see tens of thousands of Pacifica irises flowering in the wild, including thousands of I. innominata. Flower colors varied from pale yellow to intense, dark golden yellow, almost orange, with veining from dark yellow to red. This spurred me to grow this lovely iris in my own garden.
I. innominata in Southwest Oregon, 2010

The search for I. innominata plants or seeds began innocuously. As a new member of SPCNI, I ordered seeds from the SPCNI annual seed exchange. I also ordered from SIGNA’s seed exchange. Plants were purchased from a variety of sources in the western United States. All were labeled I. innominata

Meanwhile I read about Iris x aureonympha ‘Golden Nymph’, an early garden cross between I. douglasiana and I. innominata by Edith Hardin English in her Seattle, Washington garden. She liked the golden flowers but disliked the short stems and the ease with which flowers melted in heavy rain, sentiments with which I completely agree! 

 The SIGNA Checklist of Hybrids described Iris x aureonympha ‘Golden Nymph’ as “Soft golden yellow flower with veining reduced to markings of deeper yellow, two flowers to each stem." The name was published as I. aureonympha ‘Golden Nymph’ in the National Horticulture Magazine, October 1948, and reprinted in the Bulletin of the American Iris Society, p. 40-42, #125, April 1952.” [page 146, SIGNA Checklists of Iris] The article was reprinted in the Almanac for SPCNI, Spring 1977 with a note by Jean Witt that English was the first person in the Unied States to hybridize I. innominata. Note that all PCI species easily hybridize with each other, so wild crosses between I. douglasiana and I. innominata are likely, as both live in Southwest Oregon. 

But I digress—back to the outcome of my search through seed exchanges and nurseries for I. innominata

Three times the plants I purchased turned out to be I. douglasiana or other Pacifica iris selections, none matching I. innominata for plant habit and leaf characters even when flowers were (rarely) yellow. I retained a lovely I. douglasiana x unknown PCI cross with a sturdy short grow habit, of unregistered name ‘Burnt Sugar.’
I. pseudacorus sold as I. innominata. Not!

Four times the seeds also were not I. innominata, and tended to undistinguished lavenders. The most spectacular fails were two: A plant from a rock garden nursery that was actually I. pseudacorus, identified when it flowered, and a seed lot that grew into Spuria irises of unknown flower color but unmistakable growth form. My garden is too cool and dry in summer for spurias to thrive, so out it went.
Iris 'Burnt Sugar', unregistered Pacifica iris with I. douglasiana genes

Debby Cole took pity on me after a few years and sent me a few seeds from one of her yellow-flowered innominata-like plants, which upon flowering from seed in my yard we concluded were most likely to be I. innominata x I. bracteata. These had short stems, yellow flowers and the narrow dark green leaves of I. innominata. The veins on the falls were reddish brown. 

Another I. innominata x ? grown from seed 

The plants lived for years in my garden, flowering well until a hedge grew up that shaded them a bit too much. If I can find them this fall, I intend to move the plants to the wild lawn at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in a few weeks, in hopes that they will enjoy that locale. The trigger for this remembrance was that newly returned SPCNI member casually mentioning that he grows I. innominata in his own garden. All I can say is he’s lucky. I haven’t managed to get it, let alone grow it!