Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinal flower, is one of the most impressive and striking native plants for your late summer garden. This short-lived perennial plant occurs naturally in moist locations, along stream banks, swamp edges, and low woods. In our gardens, they are easily grown in average moist garden beds, but
are also the ultimate rain garden plant. In nature, they are usually found in somewhat shaded situations. In gardens, they seem to be able to handle quite a lot of sun as long as the soil is kept moist enough. One of the most fascinating things about our native plants is how they can be synched so precisely with the wildlife that uses them (not so with non- natives from other parts of the globe.) In this case, the ultra- rich, super-vivid red flowers of this plant appear in late summer, from July to October, on elongated 2-5 foot spikes. These plants in bloom are absolutely showstopping...for people AND our migrating hummingbirds.
Cardinal flower is a plant of highly disturbed areas. In nature, these disturbances can be caused by river or stream flooding, animal grazing, trees toppling…. situations that expose earth to the fine seeds of cardinal flower and allow them to germinate. For that reason, these are plants that “move around,” are rarely in the exact same place for more than a few seasons and rarely live past a few seasons in one exact spot. In our gardens, we can account for that and be sure to always have Cardinal flower in our gardens by replanting new plants now and again and/or creating small, disturbed conditions and exposed areas for Cardinal flower seeds to take hold. If you have a large property, taking seed from the plant and scattering it here and there in places where it is likely to be happy can be rewarding too.
Cardinal flowers make lots of very fine seeds, about the size of granulated salt. The spot on the upright stalk where each flower bloomed becomes a pod full of seeds. It is very important for the seeds to be mature and the stalk dry when you collect it. Because the plant blooms from the bottom to top of the stalk, often the top pods are still green while the bottoms have turned brown. Luckily, the plant holds itself upright and the pouches hold their content of seed without spilling while you wait for the entire stalk to dry. When ready, cut the stalk(s) and place in a large paper bag to bring inside for more drying time. At some point (this was a nice January task for me), the stalks can be pulled out onto a large tray and turned upside down. Many of the seeds will spill out of the dried pod, then the pods can be
crushed to release the rest. From here, it is fairly easy to scrape away most of the chaff and package up your seeds. Bam! As general rule, you can wild sow seeds at the general time of year when nature would have done so herself, so you can fling around Lobelia cardinalis seeds all winter long. I have sown them in trays and in the wild most months of the year, so don’t overthink it. The important thing is to get those seeds out there. Don’t “save” your seeds. Plant them. You’ll have even more next year!
The French Market Creole Tomato Festival honors Louisiana's produce, farmers, and our unique cuisine of which the Creole tomato is a star. Tabling at this fest was a great fit as we honored our unique native plants by giving away seeds and educating folks about their importance. It was a blast as you can see from our smiling volunteers! Thanks to the volunteers who helped table the event. Contact NPI if you are interested in tabling or volunteering for other projects!
This time of year brings such joy to native gardeners as pollinator activity on native plants really picks up and progression of flowering in the garden marches on from one species to the next. As early species decline and start to set seed, we have an opportunity to collect ripe seed from our plants to propagate ourselves and/or distribute to the community. NPI packages and gives out native seeds at our meetings and events all over town. We participated in a Memorial Day weekend Storm Sweep event at the lakefront and gave out lots of seeds there and this weekend we will be giving out over 400 packets of native seeds at the Creole Tomato Fest! Here are some native plants producing seed right now, what to look for and how to collect. Contact us for guidelines if you are collecting extra seed for NPI distribution.
Clasping Coneflower, Dracopis amplexicaulis - This is one of our earliest and easiest native wildflowers to grow. Once you grow it, it’s likely that it will always pop up somewhere in your sunny garden from the many seeds it produces. Seed heads should be completely dry and shatter fairly easily when raked with a fingernail. Paper bags are best for dry storage. Only pack in plastic when COMPLETELY DRY.
Spiderwort, Tradescantia -
Spiderworts bloom in a cluster of several flowers at the tips of the stems. The individual flowers bloom in succession, not all at one time, which means they dry and seed matures in succession too. For this reason, to collect seed, you must wait until almost all of the flowers in a terminal cluster have finished and turned brown before pulling off that clump to save seed. Spiderworts are fleshy and the seed pods and leaves surrounding the seeds can hold a lot of moisture. After you pull the end clusters off, leave them out in a flat pan to dry thoroughly before storing in a paper bags. Only pack in plastic when COMPLETELY DRY or you will have a bag of moldy yuck in no time. After harvesting the seed, cut the plant down for a neater look to the garden. Spiderwort looks unattractive at this stage.
Gaillardia pulchella, Blanket flower - Wait for it, …. wait for it, ……this is a plant whose flower heads fade and dry but must be completely brown/gray before the seeds are ripe and easily collected. The seed heads should shatter easily when raked with a fingernail. If they do not, they are not ready to harvest yet.
Coreopsis tinctoria, Tickseed - Another super easy, early native flower. Wait until seed heads are completely brown and dry before breaking apart. Paper bags are best for dry storage. Only pack in plastic when COMPLETELY DRY.
"Lawn is an ecological deadzone" says Doug Tallamy and yet it is the default option for so much of our landscaping. This year's NPI exhibit at the NOLA Spring Garden Show, April 2nd and 3rd, will focus on ways property owners can reduce or eliminate their lawn area and replace them with native plantings that benefit the ecology. For a more in-depth look at this topic and some of the alternatives to lawn, read THIS ARTICLE. We hope you will also see us at the show!
The Queen’s Green Canopy (QGC) is a tree planting initiative created to celebrate British Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee this year in 2022. The campaign invites people from across the United Kingdom to “Plant a Tree for the Jubilee” to create a legacy in honor of the Queen’s 70 years’ leadership of the Nation - trees which will benefit future generations.
The program publishes a Queen's Green Canopy Map where you can record the location of your Jubilee tree. But the Queen’s Green Canopy is on another map too…..the New Orleans House Float Map!
Native Plant Initiative member, Tanya Mennear, registered her home on General Pershing in uptown New Orleans with the Krewe of House Floats early on with the grand notion of a Green CanopyNOLA style. The results are a quirky blend of British patriotism, environmental education and New Orleans funky. Where else can Big TREE-da be seen hanging out with Her Royal Majesty, William, Kate, Charles and Camilla - all looking on cheerfully from the upper balcony, having clearly just come back from the parades.
This hand-crafted exhibition expounds upon the many reasons to plant trees in New Orleans: suitability to climate “they weather our weather better,” stormwater management “they TREE-tain water,” heat island remediation “Who Dat TREE gonna beat that heat?,” improve air and ground water quality “that’s fil-TREE-tion,” wildlife benefits “wildlife is PINE-ing for native plants,” mental health “sit and be seden-TREE”, property values “plant like your Flood Insurance depends on it!”… and don’t just plant trees, plant native trees! Other placards include the impressive numbers of insects (in the hundreds) supported by native trees like red Oaks, Swamp Red Maples and Mexican Plums versus non-natives like Crape Myrtles, Rain trees and Bradford Pears (in the single digits) and QR code chains with links to local organizations and information to help with your tree plantings.
Acorn-y jokes aside, native trees have so many benefits to our lives and the environment we live in, Harry and Megan agree that “it’s harm TREE-duction” to get busy and plant our streets and city with the many native trees that thrive here.
Certify your property as a Louisiana Certified Habitat! Every property, from the smallest city garden to rural acreage, is eligible to apply.
The Louisiana Native Plant Society invites Louisiana residents, businesses, schools, and public institutions to certify their outdoor spaces as certified habitats through the Louisiana Certified Habitat Program (LCH). We know that native plants are the foundation of a healthy and resilient ecosystem. This program encourages property owners to increase and protect the ecological value and natural heritage of their land by recognizing their efforts to utilize native plant species and to enact best habitat gardening practices. Habitat Certification Levels are determined by the amount of native plant species or percentage of native plant species on a property. State-wide, over 140 properties have certified to date, almost 50 in the NOLA area, many electing to appear on the MAP where certifications are being recorded. The levels include bronze, 25 native species or 25% native plants; silver 50 native species or 50% native plants; gold 75 native species or 75% native plants. Certification includes a 9 x 12 inch metal yard sign citing the habitat level. Levels can be upgraded for free at any time.
The Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans (NPI) certifies the Southeast region of Louisiana. Parishes include: Ascension, Assumption, Jefferson, Lafourche, New Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, Terrebonne, Washington. There is no minimum acreage requirement. All properties are eligible for certification.
How to apply
Visit LNPS' website to retrieve instructions/application for your area
Cost is $35.00 for NPI members, 45.00 for non-members
Payment is due at time of application. When the application and payment are received, a representative from NPI will contact you about the certification process and may request a site visit. A refund will be issued if certification is not granted. Please email email@example.com if cost is an issue.
Last Saturday morning in November, we spent a few hours removing invasive tree saplings from the UNO Woodlot. This is the kick-off of a multi-phase project on UNO's campus to enhance bird and wildlife habitat by planting native shrubs and trees to further develop a urban birding trail on campus where over 130 species of birds have already been reported. That’s a lot! With funds granted by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we will be helping to select and plant at least 120 native trees and shrubs in the coming months.
Volunteers came out from NPI, Orleans Audubon, Master Naturalists, UNO faculty and students, former students and community neighbors. We removed lots of Camphor, Golden Rain Tree, Chinese Elm and Tallow saplings that were sprouting on the ground layer of this woodsy spot. We also collected many fallen branches and other forest litter and concentrated them into several brush piles (which birds love!) While we were there, we could hear and see several bird species cavorting about.
We documented the following plant species already on the site:
other Oak? (not sure which species)
Southern Red Oak
Bald Cypress on fringes
Magnolia, Yaupon and Ilex opaca seedlings
Now, to decide what 50 native species of tree or woody shrub would best improve the area for birds and fit with the existing plants……What do YOU think we should plant?
The day before Halloween, NPI President, Tammany Baumgarten, and Board Director Cheryl Geiger made the trek to St. Tammany Parish to attend a guided walk in the Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve hosted by the Land Trust for Louisiana. Biologists, Nelwyn McInnis and Latimore Smith guided about 20 participants on a boardwalk stroll through a wet longleaf pine savanna grassland, highlighting the natural history and special features. The preserve is described by the Nature Conservancy as a “premiere wetland community with pond cypress woodland, riparian forest, and carnivorous plants.” Land Trust for Louisiana’s conservation easement on the preserve is part of a joint effort with The Nature Conservancy to protect 950 acres of Longleaf pine habitat.
We started our walk on a misty Hallows eve morning, following behind Nelwyn and Latimore, and they explained how hydrology and fire play an important role to create this unique landscape. The seasonality of the wetlands and the undulating ridges and swales support a diverse ecosystem with over 300 species of plants, including rare and endemic species! They explained how historically spring lightning strikes set the savannah ablaze and that the plant community here was adapted to the seasonal burning and relies on it. For example the Longleaf pine, a keystone species in this ecosystem, requires fire to open its pine cones.
The group slowly walked the boardwalk, asking the knowledgeable biologists questions about flora and fauna identification, land management, and the further conservation efforts of Abita Flatwoods Creek preserve. We got to see carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews up close, enjoyed fall blooming flowers, and learned what makes this landscape rare and worth protecting! Visit Land Trust for Louisiana | Land Conservation to check out the good work they are doing at Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve and through the state!