Monday, March 28, 2022

Understanding the Historic Dwarf Bearded (DB) Class

By Tom Waters

Before 1958, the now familiar American Iris Society (AIS) horticultural classes for bearded irises did not exist. Certainly there were bearded irises of different sizes, but the precisely defined “dwarf,” “median,” and “tall” bearded classes were still gradually taking shape as a way to describing the diversity of the bearded irises in nature and in the garden. Today, we use “median” to refer to all the bearded irises except miniature dwarfs and tall bearded. 

Consequently, care must be taken in assessing how the earlier bearded irises were categorized. This post will look at just one such category, the dwarf bearded irises, abbreviated DB prior to 1958.

DB 'Artoviolacea' (Todaro, 1856)
probably a natural hybrid
of I. lutescens and I. pumila
Photo: El Hutchison

In the early 1900s, botanists were aware of a number of dwarf bearded species, notably Iris pumila, I. lutescens (then mostly known by the name I. chamaeiris), I. aphylla, I. reichenbachii, and others. Gardeners in western Europe and the United States were also familiar with garden cultivars of dwarf bearded irises. These were almost exclusively forms of I. lutescens or hybrids between I. lutescens and other dwarf species. I. lutescens is native to the Mediterranean regions of France, Italy, and Spain. Other dwarf Iris species are native to Eastern Europe, and thus I. lutescens was more accessible to early commercial nurseries in France, England, Germany, and the Netherlands.

There was little concern about establishing a precise definition for the DB category. Dwarf cultivars being grown were easy to distinguish from tall beardeds (TBs), and that was really all that mattered. Crossing dwarfs with talls produced intermediates,  another widely used term. The intermediate beardeds (IBs) were a pretty obvious group of hybrids and easily distinguished from both dwarfs and talls. Keep in mind that this was long before separate awards were established for different irises. Terms like dwarf, intermediate, and tall were helpful descriptions for irises rather than a specific horticultural class that needed to be assigned unambiguously.

DB 'Bride' (Caparne, 1901)
probably pure I. lutescens,
6 to 8 inches in the author's garden
photo: Tom Waters
The AIS checklists of the 1920s defined dwarf bearded irises by listing some familiar dwarf species, and noting that the term included hybrids between these species. The 1939 checklist added some precision by stating that dwarf irises were up to 17 inches in height. It was not clear whether ancestry from dwarf species or height was to be decisive; it was just taken for granted that hybrids among the dwarf species and cultivars would fall into the expected height range.

What were these early dwarfs like? Like the species I. lutescens that dominated their ancestry, the early dwarfs were mostly between 6 and 12 inches in height, almost never branched, bearing one or two terminal buds. Colors ranged from yellow, cream, and white, to blue, violet, and purple. Most had self or bitone color patterns. The spot pattern from I. pumila, so familiar to us in modern dwarfs, was seen only occasionally. All blooms were tailored, and the plants bloomed before the intermediates and talls. Although I. lutescens in the wild often shows interesting markings, patterns, and blended colors, these were not common among garden varieties. Perhaps this reflects the preference for clear, smooth colors that persisted among iris fanciers until the later decades of the 20th century.

DB 'Path of Gold' (Hodson, 1941),
a child of 'Bride' and
probably pure I. lutescens, is
10-12 inches in the author's garden.
Photo: TomWaters
Hybridizing with dwarf irises took a back seat to TB hybridizing until the 1940s and 1950s. William J. Caparne of England produced many dwarfs around 1900, as did the German firm of Goos and Koenemann. A number of American hybridizers subsequently worked with dwarfs, most notably Hans and Jacob Sass of Nebraska.

As hybridizing progressed, it became clear that complicated hybrids might not always fall into one of the intuitive categories being employed. In 1948, the AIS adopted a new set of classes defined by L. F. Randolph. Randolph rejected height as a decisive factor, and offered instead a rather vague notion that advanced generation hybrids that had "most of the characteristics of typical dwarf bearded irises" (he had in mind things like season of bloom, short foliage and stalk, lack of branching, etc.) would be considered DBs.

This way of thinking about the class was soon pushed to the breaking point. Hybridizers had begun importing and working with different species, outside the familiar I. lutescens and its hybrids. Robert Schreiner had imported seeds of the tiny cold-hardy species I. pumila from eastern Europe, and this exciting new species gradually spread among dwarf hybridizers. Paul Cook introduced the first hybrids between I. pumila and TBs in 1951: 'Baria', 'Fairy Flax', and 'Green Spot'. Although the term had not yet been invented, these were the prototype of what would become the modern classification of standard dwarfs. Did these new irises have "most of the characteristics" of dwarfs? At a mere 10 inches, they were less than 18 inches tall, to be sure, but did having a TB parent make them intermediates? They were sometimes branched, not a characteristic of "typical" DBs of the time.

DB 'Sapphire Night' (Nicholls, 1935),
perhaps a hybrid involving
 I. lutescens and I. aphylla,
12-14 inches in the author's garden.
Photo: Tom Waters
Cook registered his new hybrids as IBs, but to many iris fanciers that just seemed wrong. In 1954, AIS introduced a new height-based classification, where any bearded iris 15 inches tall or less was a DB, regardless of ancestry or other characteristics. This caused a schism with many dwarf enthusiasts.

Eventually the matter was settled by splitting the DB class in two: a miniature dwarf bearded (MDB) class with an upper height limit of 10 inches (reduced to 8 inches in 1976), and a standard dwarf bearded (SDB) class from 10 to 15 inches. The MDBs were the province of the Dwarf Iris Society, whereas the SDBs were regarded as medians and promoted by the Median Iris Society.

The effects of Cook's new hybrids were not limited to the classification system. Excited by the developments, dwarf hybridizers scrambled to use I. pumila and the new SDBs in their breeding. The 1950s was a transition decade: it began with nearly all DBs being cultivars or hybrids of I. lutescens, and ended with nearly all MDBs and SDBs being hybrids of I. pumila and TBs in varied proportions. The influx of TB genes brought plicatas, pinks, and ruffled blooms into the dwarf iris world; I. pumila brought dramatic and varied spot patterns.

What does this all mean for the collector of historic dwarf bearded irises? First, it is essential to understand that the DB class does not correspond to any single modern class. It spans the height range of both MDB and SDB classes, even extending into the IB class in some instances. In principle, every historic DB could be assigned to a modern class on the basis of height. However, height was not recorded in early registration data; so such determinations would require catalog descriptions or garden observations. The Median Iris Society attempted to make such reassignments for the IB, MTB, and BB classes, although I do not know of any similar undertaking having been made for the MDBs and SDBs.

Even if we were able to sort historic DBs into modern classes based on height, that would not capture the essential nature of the old category. It represents irises of different ancestry and genetic characteristics than the modern classes. The 8-inch height boundary is even less meaningful for the old DBs than it is for their modern successors. I. lutescens and its hybrids span this boundary, and there is seldom any meaningful difference between a 7-inch and a 10-inch DB.

I think the best advice for modern growers interested in collecting historic dwarfs is to approach them on their own terms: viewing the DB category in its own right with context that differs from modern hybrids. Starting from that perspective, one can then notice some similarities and comparisons that might be made: A DB that is a I. lutescens/pumila hybrid, for example, might resemble an MDB that is an SDB/I. pumila hybrid.

The historic DBs are harder to come by than modern cuiltivars, but it is worthwhile to acquire and grow a few. Not only will you be helping to preserve a window into iris history, you will also get to enjoy a type of iris that really has no modern counterpart.

Monday, March 21, 2022

The Sun Sets on Rainbows at Dry Creek: Part II

 By Jeff Bennett

In a previous post, I described planting guest irises at the Dry Creek Garden in Union City, California for the 2019 American Iris Society (AIS) National Convention and installation of the fence enclosure in late 2017. By early 2018, the winter rains brought the winter weeds. This area—having never been cultivated before—had a seed bank to die for . . .literally.

Weeds (mostly grasses) started to sprout during November and December of 2017, but they were too small to start pulling. By mid-January of 2018 they were tall enough to work with. Unfortunately, I soon discovered it took me about 8 hours to weed just one bed and the garden had 25 guest beds that all needed this attention at the same time. I reached out to the local iris societies for help.

Volunteers from the Mount Diablo and Sydney B. Mitchell Iris Societies started coming on a bi-weekly basis to get weeds under control. Needless to say, this was a daunting task. Irises were competing with weeds for light and nutrients, making a rocky start to their first growing season. Little by little, our efforts revealed irises growing in the beds and gave them room to breathe and expand.

Weeds at the Dry Creek Garden

Meanwhile, weather was warming. Irrigation lines were connected and fine-tuned to provide water as our long dry spell started. In California, rain stops falling in mid-May and often doesn’t start up again until late October or November or even later. I continued to trap gophers all summer and planned the next stage of improvements to the maze of pathways.

The planting site was plagued by Convolvuls arvensis, a horrible wild morning glory, better known as field bindweed. This herbaceous perennial has roots that go down more than 12 inches and cannot be removed completely by pulling. But, we pulled anyway to help control it. In pathways, however, we tried different materials to suppress growth: paper, cardboard and woven fabric. Of course, all three options cost money, so I decided to do three pathways with fabric. We laid it out, used ground staples to hold it in place and put a layer of compost on top to hide it. It looked fantastic afterwards. Unfortunately, the ever-persistent bindweed would come up through that staple hole: and we learned not to use fabric staples.

Woven fabric before and after adding compost

The next (and cheaper) experiment was cardboard and paper. I found a company in Colorado selling 3x500-foot rolls of recycled paper as weed block for organic gardening. They cost $99 each, but only last one growing season. The paper was bio-degradable and worked temporarily for our purpose. This was used for the remaining pathways and compost was spread evenly on top. We used over 90 yards of compost to complete the task and finished in March, 2019.

Biodegradable paper and compost installed in pathways between iris beds.

In the meantime, another winter rainy season sprouted another round of weeds to be pulled. We reached out to the societies for help again in pulling weeds among the now larger clumps and now about 37 beds. A larger task indeed, four months before the convention. I reached out to Clara B. Rees Iris Society for additional help. They wholeheartedly stepped up and joined the project. It was great to have three societies working together for a common goal. We all got to meet new people that shared our love of growing irises. 

Volunteers from three different iris societies helped reduce weed pressure at the Dry Creek Garden

 Along with continuous weeding, signage needed to be determined and placed. Since everything was new, we had no existing permanent signage for each iris. Just those little plastic tags that break or blow away. Planting lists are essential, especially when others are helping and might put a tag back in the wrong place. At this point we had about 1,200 irises in the ground and ALL of them needed a sign. I wanted something unique and easy to read. I did a mock-up of a sign, showed it to a few people, and ran with it. I used wide mouth canning jar lids purchased in bulk. I spray painted them different colors for the different classes of iris. White was for tall bearded, yellow for intermediate bearded, etc. I even did them for the beardless irises too. Then I started handwriting each one with the required details: Iris name, hybridizer’s name, year and type or seedling. Then I rigged up 36” irrigation flags and taped the signs on with extreme-hold tape. Amazing, the tape really held up well.

Iris labels made from metal, wide-mouth canning jar lids.

It was now April, 2019, and the national convention was only four weeks away. Placing the signs, coordinating table and chair rentals, tents, music, restrooms, and maintenance weeding kept me focused during the crunch time. It was also a very wet spring which was great for the irises and their growth. Excitement and hope were building. Would they be at peak bloom on time? Would there be some bad wind or hail event to ruin things? Would we be ready? All these things crossed my mind daily as we got closer . . .and closer.

Stay tuned . . . for the next installment.

Orange California poppies blooming among bearded irises.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Smokin Heights Top 10 Bearded Iris Varieties for 2022

 by Mel and Bailey Schiller

This past season has seen many downs compared to the ups in our life.  We are having "first anniversaries" of my son and Bailey's brother Braiden's passing in late September, 2021. Iris season will never be the same again. On March 5th, we celebrated what would of been Braiden's 26th birthday. As a family we are on an emotional roller coaster, yet life must go on.

Bailey and I have had the irises to occupy our minds for the season. We have done our very best to cope. However, photos are lacking, information is lacking .... Some days it is just too much. The ground is extremely dry and dusty. Autumn weather suggests that winter won't be too far away. We're having extremely cool to mild days with cool evenings. Daylight-saving time will be coming to an end in April. We have started to re-plant the seedlings and will push on to finish before it gets too cold.

As in prior years, we produced a record number of irises which were our best sellers from this past season. We concluded sales as Bailey is back at university and we need all the time we have available to replant our seedlings and our main field.

The following are the top ten bearded irises from our sales list for season 2021/2022.  I must say we were shocked to see the increased sales of border bearded and intermediate bearded irises in the listing! As Australian iris growers and hybridizers, we advise our customers in selecting plants well suited to their growing conditions. Some parts of our beautiful country get hit with extreme wind, and the median-sized border and intermediate irises are perfect for spring colour in these adverse conditions. Some gardeners do not have a protected garden where everything can be successfully planted and thrive. Each of us must find the right plants and work with what we have to create our little piece of heaven at home. 

We shall begin at number ten and work our way to the top-selling iris at number one:


Number 10 - 'Coralina' is a delectable tall bearded iris bred by Thomas Johnson and registered in 2014. We love this peach-toned iris with all its gorgeous ruffling. It produces stunning clumps of bloom in spring.


Number 9 - Tall bearded iris 'Celtic Tartan' is a pretty luminata introduced by Keith Keppel in 2015 This pretty iris is an easy grower; and for those who love the luminata pattern, it is a favourite!


Number 8 - 'But Darling is a beautifully formed tall bearded iris introduced by Schreiners in 2016. It performs beautifully in our garden and makes a statement. Visitors to the garden comment regularly on the beauty of this iris.


Number 7 - Border bearded iris 'Boy Genius' was introduced by Joe Ghio in 2012. This would have to be a favourite amongst our collection of border bearded irises at Smokin Heights. We think this iris is stunning!


Number 6 -  In 2003, Barry Blyth put forth intermediate iris 'Romeo's Passion.' This little beauty is our  favourite red IB. The silkiness of the bloom draws your eye. In a large clump it is stunning!


Number 5 - 'Kissed By Fire' (Mel Schiller 2019) is a easy grower that puts on a gorgeous display! Bailey and I were unsure when I introduced this iris, purely because the breeding was a little older than the others I had bred. We are glad we went with our gut instincts and introduced it. It has proven to win gardeners' hearts over and over!  


Number 4 -  We love the banding on the falls of  tall bearded 'Trill Ride' (M. Sutton 2015). The great depth of colour shines through. It has proven to be a fantastic growing variety that produces large rhizomes quickly. 


Number 3 - The unusual smokiness of this blue orchid-pink 'Dragon Kiss' (Barry Blyth 2013/14) wins gardeners over every time. Oh, and we have discovered people love collecting irises purely for the names. People who collect dragon-themed things add this one to their collections time and time again!


Number 2 - Tall bearded 'Beside Myself' (Barry Blyth 2016/17) is a pretty plicata with large blooms. It has wormed its way into gardeners' hearts. Gardeners don't always want a solid-coloured iris. Plicatas are definitely a top choice to add variety to the garden colour scheme. 


Number 1 - 'A Certain Girl' was the most popular iris sold at Smokin Heights for season 2021/2022 . This exquisite iris was introduced by Barry Blyth in 2018. A tall bearded, it has gorgeous yummy colouring for the romantic cottage garden look. In our garden it gets extremely windy and as it is a tall stemmed variety it can topple easily.  This past season it put on a wonderful early display with plenty of growth.  


We would like to thank our followers, customers, friends, and most of all the gardeners of Australia for trusting and believing in Smokin Heights to deliver our product throughout Australia. We thank those who have lifted our spirits in times of despair, who have messaged, phoned or emailed, sending uplifting powerful messages, and those who have given warm hugs and just been there for us this past season. 

We thank you from the bottoms of our hearts. We look forward to enjoying photos of irises blooming in the Northern Hemisphere and to one day returning to the U.S.A for iris season!  

Monday, March 7, 2022

Mission Creep and Conservation of Louisiana Irises

By Gary Salathe

"Mission Creep," as defined by Wikipedia: "The gradual or incremental expansion of an intervention, project or mission, beyond its original scope, focus or goals, a ratchet effect spawned by initial success."

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), of which I am the founder and on the board of directors, has an on-going iris restoration project at the US Fish & Wildlife Service's Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans, Louisiana. The project started as a Greater New Orleans Iris Society (GNOIS) project in 2018 and LICI picked it up in 2020. Between 2018 and 2021, I organized multiple events in which volunteers from these groups replanted over 4,000 rhizomes of native Louisiana Iris giganticaerulea.

Louisiana iris blooming at the boardwalk in the Bayou Sauvage refuge in April of 2021. 

One of the challenges we faced was trying to determine the best location for planting along the old Bayou Sauvage. A few centuries ago, the bayou was a distributary of the Mississippi River. Now it is cut off from local waterways by hurricane protection levees and is a sad remnant of what it once was.  Its just a rain-fed long low area.  If we planted away from the shoreline, we would risk flooding irises in low areas during extreme rain. However, shoreline areas were covered in bushes and an invasive tree species; the Chinese tallow. These taller plants would have crowded out and shaded the irises. Neither was conducive to the irises blooming nor would they support conservation and long term survival.

 
Volunteers during one of our 2021 planting events at the Bayou Sauvage refuge planting irises away from the shoreline.

Our solution required finding middle ground between the two extremes. The irises depend on the bayou area staying wet with rainwater. Planting irises towards the middle would increase their probability of being in moist ground for much of the year. 

Hundreds of people visited the boardwalk at the Bayou Sauvage refuge to see the blooming I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris in April 2021.

From 2018 until the spring of 2021, everything went perfectly. Each year the total number of irises increased naturally and through additional plantings by my group. Then, starting in late April of 2021, a slow rolling catastrophe hit the irises at the boardwalk. By mid-September, over 84 inches of rain fell in the New Orleans area.

 
Just before the irises bloomed, water levels were high but their leaves were still above water.

The water level where we planted irises would ominously rise each time it rained, but would drop back down to a high, but acceptable, level within a few days. The irises all bloomed and things looked like they might calm down during our usual hit-and-miss summer thunderstorm season. However, the thunderstorms were a little more hit than miss. Water never dropped to its usual summertime level, and then Hurricane Ida came blowing through and dumped unusually heavy rain on the area. The water rose to a level where many already weakened irises were submerged for more than a few days—too long for the plants to tolerate. It quickly became apparent that were going to lose about 60% of the irises.

This March 2021 photo shows the line of bushes along the shoreline of the bayou that would be killed off by that fall because of their roots being covered in standing water for extended periods of time. A dense stand of Chinese tallow trees can be seen behind the bushes just as their leaves are beginning to come out.

Not ready to be defeated by Mother Nature, we regrouped and came up with a plan: kill the invasive tallow trees and create open areas along the shoreline. We could plant these higher areas with irises and reduce the risk of them going underwater again. Fortunately, many of the bushes along the shoreline also died from water levels remaining too high for them to survive. The tallow trees however, like many invasive species, are talented survivors and showed no ill side effects from being in standing water for extended periods of time.

A LICI volunteer using the "hack and squirt" method of killing a Chinese tallow tree with an herbicide.

We received a permit from the US Fish & Wildlife Service (which always gets very excited and grateful when someone wants to kill tallow trees in one of their refuges) and went to work on the tallow trees. I put together a group of four volunteers to meet Monday mornings at the refuge and spend three-hours each time killing Chinese tallow trees. It was very satisfying work.

The Chinese tallow tree can be easily spotted in Louisiana forests when their leaves change color in late fall. In the early 1900s it was used as an ornamental tree in Louisiana because most of the state's native trees typically do not produce fall-colored leaves. The leaves of most native Louisiana hardwood trees turn tan or brown in color each fall.

At the refuge, Chinese tallow trees had taken advantage of huge areas of bare ground that were created by the destruction from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They got a head start on the native trees that would usually naturalize in these areas. Since the Chinese tallow trees grow faster than native tree species, they out-compete the native trees that would otherwise reforest the damaged areas.

Not long after we started work on killing tallow trees we ran into a Loyola University biology professor on the refuge that has an on-going twenty-year research project there. He told us if we only killed off the tallow trees along the shoreline where we wanted to plant irises the area would just be reseeded by nearby tallow trees we didn't kill. He said we needed to kill off all of the tallow trees in the boardwalk area. "I've seen other groups come and go killing tallow trees, but the tallow trees always come back," he warned us. 

This little tidbit of motivational talk got the crew to agree on expanding our goal by killing all of the tallow trees in the boardwalk area and resolving to come back each year to address tallow trees trying to get reestablished.

A pure stand of Chinese tallow trees canopied over this area of the Bayou Sauvage refuge and successfully shaded out native trees attempting to grow. As more of these areas were discovered it became apparent that a reforestation effort would be needed once the tallow trees were killed off.

We also bumped into the staff biologist while working at the refuge. He shared with us that to make our project a success we needed to plant native trees in any areas where dense stands of Chinese tallow trees were killed off. We would need to plant a desirable native tree in these areas since the tallows had long ago shaded and killed off all of the native trees that tried to get established among them. 

"If you don't, the newly-opened areas will just grow back as a new tallow tree forest from birds bringing seeds in," he stated in a very serious tone. He also broke the news to us that the refuge did not have the money or staff to order or plant these new trees. He then hopped into his pickup truck and drove off. After this little tidbit of motivational talk, the crew agreed to expand our goal to include replanting native trees in all of the areas where we were going to kill off the tallow trees.

After working for months, our little crew had killed off around 4,000 Chinese tallow trees. Now at the end of October, we were eager to begin the next phase of this moving-target project. I approached our friends at Common Ground Relief, a local non-profit involved in marsh restoration projects using out of state college student volunteers. They agreed to donate hundreds of one and three gallon pots containing live oaks and cypress trees from their Wetlands Nursery. Many of these trees were outgrowing their containers due to COVID-19 causing college student volunteers to be unavailable the last two years to plant them in their restoration projects.

Common Ground Relief told me that they needed to find a home for the trees quickly because an order of smaller trees was scheduled to arrive in a couple of months. I asked if they would like to become a partner in the reforestation portion of the project and provide some volunteers to plant their trees and our irises. Thankfully they agreed.

Most of the trees that were planted at the Bayou Sauvage refuge during the project were donated by LICI's partner in the project, Common Ground Relief. The co-director of Common Ground Relief, Charlotte Clarke, is seen in the center of the photo among volunteers from AmeriCorps as they collect trees for that day's planting at the Bayou Sauvage Refuge. Charlotte was responsible for the donation from Common Ground Relief.

The effort to replant areas of the refuge involved many volunteers that did not actually plant any of the trees. The potted trees used in the plantings had been growing at the Common Ground Relief's Wetlands Nursery in New Orleans for the last two to three years. They have required huge amounts of time and energy from Common Ground Relief's staff and local volunteers to plant trees into containers, keep them watered, and pull weeds from the pots twice each year.

Volunteers from Tulane University are shown loading some potted cypress trees being donated by Common Ground Relief onto my trailer to be delivered to the Bayou Sauvage refuge.

To get the collaboration going, Common Ground Relief donated over 300 three-gallon potted live oak trees and a total of 400 one and three-gallon bald cypress trees from the Wetlands Nursery in early November. They also ordered and donated 200 live oak, 400 cypress and 50 American elm bare-root seedlings for the project and then donated 50 additional bare-root cypress seedlings from their nursery. The US Fish & Wildlife Service also donated a total of 500 other types of oak and green ash tree seedlings that were left over from a tree planting at another refuge.


Volunteers planting trees where the Chinese tallow trees had been killed off earlier in the year. 

I organized multiple events between early December 2021 and mid-January 2022 to plant the trees. These events involved eight to 17 volunteers planting the potted trees and bare-root tree seedlings. The every Monday morning work crew switched gears from eradicating Chinese tallow trees to planting the new trees from early November 2021 until February 17, 2022, when the last trees were planted.

Refuge manager Shelley Stiaes (center) and New Orleans city councilman Oliver Thomas (behind Shelley) came out to welcome volunteers for the tree planting event in December 2021. The Friends of the US Fish & Wildlife Refuges, Inc. were also present to support volunteers with snacks and hot chocolate. This group of volunteers was from Saint Paul's Catholic Student Center at the University of Wisconsin - Madison and were hosted in New Orleans by Common Ground Relief for a week of service activities.

The effect of the volunteers' work killing the tallow trees and planting new trees at the refuge became visible to refuge visitors over the last few months. Word had started spreading about the project—two local TV stations, WDSU and Fox 8 News, each became interested in the story and asked to do an interview with those involved.


Charlotte Clarke (on right), co-executive director of Common Ground Relief, is seen being interviewed by Lee Southwick of WDSU at the Bayou Sauvage refuge on January 12, 2022 during one of the tree planting events. Fox8 News did a remote interview with the Monday work crew while they were working at the refuge on January 17th.

In conjunction with the tree planting, we also planted Louisiana irises along the old Bayou Sauvage shoreline as time allowed and volunteers were available. Our goal was to add 2,500 Louisiana irises to the refuge during this winter's iris planting season while simultaneously pursuing our goal of planting 1,900 trees.

Volunteers from LICI, Common Ground Relief and GulfCorps/Limitless Vistas came together for a tree planting and iris planting event at the Bayou Sauvage refuge on December 6, 2021.

Next, I was contacted by The Nature Conservancy.  GulfCorps, through Limitless Vistas, Inc., has supplied workers for our iris restoration project at the Bayou Sauvage refuge during the last two years. GulfCorps is a partnership of The Nature Conservancy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. GulfCorp's purpose is to do job training for hundreds of young adults by restoring the natural features and habitats on critical conservation lands along the Gulf of Mexico.  Restoration of our country's wetlands is becoming a very important and growing industry.

Limitless Vistas does job training of GulfCorps members in Southeast Louisiana.

The Nature Conservancy's GulfCorps Conservation Information Manager, Karrie Arnold, has recently begun a program to collect base data on long-term projects that GulfCorps workers are participating in. She will make subsequent annual visits to monitor the success of each project. She asked the manager of the Bayou Sauvage refuge if she could monitor LICI's iris restoration project and the work that the GulfCorps workers are doing for it. The manager agreed, so Karrie drove in from Alabama for one of the iris planting days at the refuge involving the GulfCorps workers. I, of course, welcomed the involvement of this nationally-recognized organization and find it exciting that they are so interested in our project.

 
Nature Conservancy's, Karrie Arnold (in blue T-shirt), worked with GulfCorps workers installing a grid within the iris restoration area of the refuge on December 6, 2021. Each iris within the grid was counted. The plan is for Karrie to return during the 2022 iris bloom in April to do another count to see how the iris numbers have increased through natural increases and by additional plantings.
 
We began planting irises for the 2021-22 winter planting season at the Bayou Sauvage refuge in December 2021. Volunteers from AmeriCorps, Louisiana Master Naturalist of Greater New Orleans, GulfCorps/Limitless Vistas, Common Ground Relief and the group they hosted from Saint Paul's Catholic Student Center at the University of Wisconsin - Madison all helped LICI's volunteers at some point over the past three months get the irises and trees planted. 
 
We greatly appreciate and are thankful for all of the help we received from volunteers to get the iris and tree planting job done this year.
 

Common Ground Relief volunteers planted Louisiana irises at the Bayou Sauvage refuge in December, 2021.

So...what started out as an iris restoration project morphed into a Chinese tallow tree eradication project. This further evolved into a major tree planting project—which planted 1,900 trees. It then settled back down as an iris restoration planting project with over 2,500 irises in the ground. After we finished, we learned the irises would be studied by a national conservation organization for years to come. Whew! What an adventure.

When I titled this article "Mission Creep and Conservation of Louisiana Irises" I really didn't give any hints as to whether this was a good thing or bad thing. However, there is no question that this odyssey ended up being the most consequential and satisfying project I have taken on since I embarked on this whole "iris restoration plantings" thing four years ago. A big bonus for me is that along the way I have had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people of all ages and backgrounds willing to get out there and spend the time and effort to make a difference. In this case, "mission creep" has been a very good thing indeed.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative website can be found here: https://www.licisaveirises.com/

Recent articles about our work can be found here: https://www.licisaveirises.com/news

Our Facebook page can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/licisaveirises/

Our email address is: licisaveirises@gmail.com
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