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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!

June 11th-12th

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.



Dracopis seedhead






Spiderwort, Tradescantia -

Spiderwort flower heads

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.

Spiderwort seeds drying on tray



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.


Seedheads should shatter easily when ready


Gaillardia....not ready 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.

Coreopsis tinctoria
Coreopsis tinctoria seeds
Coreopsis tinctoria seedheads


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:

  • Slash Pine
  • Black Cherry
  • Cherry Laurel
  • Live Oak
  • Water Oak
  • other Oak? (not sure which species)
  • Southern Red Oak
  • Hickory?
  • Green Ash?
  • Sweet Gum
  • Bald Cypress on fringes
  • Elderberry
  • Mulberry
  • Magnolia, Yaupon and Ilex opaca seedlings
  • Virginia Creeper
  • Poison Ivy
  • Spiderwort
  • Bidens alba
  • Sida rhombifolia

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?

Abita Creek Flatwoods

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!

Enjoy the pictures from the day!


-Cheryl Geiger, NPI Board member

The Euonymus americana locally know as "Strawberry bush", "Burning Bush", "Hearts-a-Busting" is in full display right now.   In late summer/early fall the red fruits burst open to reveal bright orange berries.  The pictures below are from a NPI member's garden in New Orleans.

It is an adaptable landscape shrub or small tree tolerating different sun exposures and soil types.  It does best in shadier areas with filtered light and protection from afternoon sun.  The colorful fruits and seeds not only provide fall interest for humans, but are also a food source for birds and mammals.

In the wild it can be found in riparian areas, forming loose thickets.

Learn more about the "Strawberry bush" Euonymus americanus HERE

Once again, a summer hurricane has displayed the inherent and wonderful
qualities of native plants in the landscape.
The live oaks swayed in the 150 mph winds and, if they’ve been maintained
properly, few branches broke. In my back yard, the swamp maple, blooming and
upright cardinal flower, cherry tree, flowering clematis crispa, often visited by
pollinators coral honeysuckle, bee hugging sweet joe pye, black eyed susans and
salvias, and the hummingbird favorite turk’s cap took it all in stride. Louisiana
Irises bent quite a bit, but those can be cut back and/or replanted this time of
year. I’ve noticed the blue jays, hummingbirds, and Carolina wrens returning first,
plus a few strong giant swallowtails and sulphurs. Gulf Coast Fritillaries were
super busy before the storm, and I expect to see more of those shortly.
Watch for power lines! They can be camouflaged in downed tree limbs. Never
touch them. Look for places where water is collecting and empty dishes, gutter
plates, and pots to keep mosquitoes from breeding heavily in all the water left
behind the storms.
Take stock of what weathered the storm well, and be sure to collect those seeds,
where possible. Side dress plants where possible and fertilize if the storm dumped
a lot of rain. Your container plant soils will probably be depleted if they were
rained on heavily for days.
Leave the stalks of your plants that are spent, especially upright stalks of Sweet
Joe Pye and Swamp Sunflowers. Native bees use them as nests over winter, along
with fallen leaves, so blow and rake as little as possible. I’ve heard some people
cut the stalks and lay them horizontally if they’re eyesores, and I’ve not been able
to find any results as to the bees still using horizontal stalks. Experts say to leave
6-18” of upright stalk behind for the bees. Surely we can do that!
Leave the tree cutting to the professionals; but if they are mulching the wood
they cut, ask them for some of the wood chips. Leave them in black plastic bags in
a corner of your yard or house until they compost a bit, then use them in your
garden. Use like chips for like trees, oak chips under oak trees, cypress chips
under cypress trees. I’ve found that a hard root ball and hard pan soil can become
spongy again after a couple of seasons of wood chip mulch applications. Oak trees shed their leaves in storms, so that their branches don’t become overburdened,
and that’s the best free mulch there is. Bag it up and store it, dump some leaves
into your compost bins. Some people like to shred the leaves before using as
mulch, which helps it break down faster. The LA Iris rhizomes and many tender
plants will thank you.
Use this opportunity when the soil is soaked, to remove unwanted invasive plants
like nandina, tallo and elephant ears. These plants are difficult to take out, but
with soggy roots, it’s often easier to dig them out. Hurricanes spread invasive
species, via wind and water, so be on the lookout.
Even if you live in an urban environment, it’s easy to incorporate more and more
natives into your landscape, even if you have a strict HOA. From showy
coneflowers and bright yellow sunflowers (which come in all sizes), to low
growing shady plants like violets and powder puff mimosa groundcovers, to green
shrubs of many native hollies, anise, american beauty berry, wax myrtle or
fetterbush and native trees (which also come in all sizes) like Native Fringe,
parsley haw and Sweetbay Magnolias.
We can do our part to help restore biodiversity, even in our tiniest of gardens:
container gardens, patio gardens, courtyards, driveways, easements. Plant the
native species of plants you love. Replace some of the lawns in your landscape
with islands of native plants, or replace all of your lawn with meandering
pathways of native gardens. Join Doug Tallamy’s Home Grown National Park, , or just go plant a few natives.

There comes a time about now in New Orleans when Spring feels almost gone and the beautiful displays of the very first native flowers are going to seed.  Some of them will continue to bloom for some time, but the first flowers have faded, dried and turned brown….ripe for collecting!  On almost every plant out there, it is best to wait until seeds have completely dried on the plant before collecting them (just like nature would do it).  It also makes the job much easier.  If the seedheads are not completely dry, it might help to lay them out on a sheet pan and store them in paper bags to be sure they won't mold once put away.

Of course, you don't have to collect seeds from your plants.  One of the best reasons to grow natives is that the seeds provide valuable nutrition to birds and other animals.  You can absolutely leave the seeds on the plant to disburse themselves naturally, especially if you would like some to volunteer in that same spot next year.  We like to do a bit of both.  With native plants often in short supply, it’s nice to save some seeds to scatter out in another space or plant in containers, or better yet, to share with others.  We have heard it said that you should plant seeds when nature would have planted them.  That may still mean that they don't sprout until nature would have them sprout, and you still may not have new plants until next Spring.  Seed germination varies widely and by circumstance….no better time to start learning!

Just a few native plants that we are collecting dried seed from right now in late May are Winecups, Callirhoe species, Heals All, Prunella vulgaris,  Columbine, and Coreopsis lanceolata because it is one of the earliest Coreopsis and therefore almost finished its cycle.

Callirhoe seedhead
Callirhoe seeds

Winecups are one of the showiest natives because of their brilliant pink color.  They are also very deep-rooted, long-lived and resilient plants that can tolerate full, blasting roadside-type sun and poor soil.  They bloom over an extended period but as new flowers are still blooming, some seeds are already ready to collect.


Prunella, Heals-All or Self-Heal, has a long history and has become one of our favorite low spreading, perennial natives.  The flowers are nearly finished now and the flower bracts are drying in place almost ready to harvest for future sowings.

Prunella flower bract after drying








These dried bracts are very tenacious and hang on for a long time, unlike some other plants, so there’s no rush to collect….they will be there in a few weeks just the same and the drier ALL of the seedheads are,  the better for collecting and storing.

Columbine is a delightful and showy early Spring native for us.  Hinckley’s Columbine has large yellow blooms while Columbine canadensis has red and yellow smaller blooms.

Hinckley's columbine
Columbine canadensis








Either species has just about finished and many of their seedheads will be dry and ready to tip over and dump out shiny black seeds.

Columbine seedpod
Columbine seeds are shiny and black and pour right out of the dry pod

Lastly, if you were lucky enough to have been to one of our Native Plant Giveaways this Spring, you may have walked away with one of our earliest native Coreopsis species, C. lanceolata.

Lance-leafed Coreopsis has large, toothed, bright yellow flowers and makes a great show.  It’s dry seedheads pour out dozens of dark brown seeds when you turn them upside down. This is how they readily re-seed more plants into your garden and they will easily grow wherever you scatter them.


Coreopsis lanceolata
Coreopsis seedhead








Seeds from Coreopsis spill out of the dried seedhead

There are so many more blooming plants to come in the next few months and surely many that might be ready now that we did not cover…..what are you collecting seeds from right now in your native garden?


We enjoy our Spring gardening season so much here in the deep Gulf South, but once we get to July and August and into the real dog days of summer, with near constant tropical deluges and sauna-like heat, our gardens can just look tired and not at their best.   Many of the garden plants we use for seasonal color and pizzazz don’t manage our summertime combination of heavy rainfall and oppressive temperatures very well, but as usual - there’s a native plant for that!

Some of the most dramatic and colorful native plants for our area, with flowers sometimes as much as 8-10” across, are our native hibiscus species.  These plants, in the Malvaceae family, also answer to common names like Rose Mallow, Swamp Rose Mallow, Crimson-eyed Mallow and yes, Marsh Mallow.  The genus Hibiscus includes four species (aculeatus, grandiflorus, lasiocarpos, and mosheutos) that are native to Louisiana plus H. coccineus that is native to the United States but perhaps not Louisiana.  Also garden worthy is Kosteletskya virginica, our native Saltmarsh Mallow.  Found naturally in moist to wet areas up the eastern seaboard from Louisiana to New Jersey, all of these easy-to-grow plants shine in the summer heat and thrive here in our gardens.

Native mallows are herbaceous, long-lived perennial plants.   Flower colors often vary in nature from white to shades of pink and even bright red in the case of Hibiscus coccineus, better known Scarlet Rosemallow or Texas Star Hibiscus.  Hibiscus aculeatus, the Pineland Hibiscus or Comfortroot, can be a soft white to butter-yellow, reminiscent of an okra flower.  Hibiscus moscheutos and H. lasiocarpus are usually “crimson eyed” having a distinctive red throat on white flowers.  Halbeardleaf Hibiscus, H. laevis, is distinguished by its’ leaf-shape and can be found in many color variations.  All have an impressive pollen-coated stamen that protrudes from the flower, making them particularly attractive to people and bees alike.  Lots of breeding has been done with our native hibiscus species. Hybrids and cultivars abound in the nursery trade, including the LSU Super Plants, the Luna series.

In the wild, mallows occur in ditches, in or near swamps, lakes or rivers showing off their love for moist to wet, rich soil.  While they are well suited to wet and moist areas, pond edges, and rain gardens which makes them the perfect stormwater management plant, they are equally as happy in the average sunny garden bed with adequate moisture.  This time of year, it is often easy to spot these plants along our roadsides in ditches or in swampy areas.  I often see pink mallows on the Lake side of the Bonne Carre’ spillway and have recently been seeing pale yellow Comfortroot on the sides of Highway 25 near Folsom blooming in wet swales.

Native mallows differ from non-native tropical hibiscus in that they go completely dormant in winter, leaving only upright tan-colored, hollow stalks standing.  I find these stalks dramatic and interesting in the winter garden and rather than clip them down, I leave them standing.   This not only marks where the plant is in the garden, but also provides perfect nesting spaces for native bees that rely on hollow plant stalks for rearing their young.  I have also seen birds shred the dried, woody stems to make nesting material.

Most native mallow species can get quite tall, as much as 6-8’ or more, but the plants can be encouraged to branch by pinching the growing tip at an early stage before they set flower buds.  As a plant matures, more and more flowering stalks will emerge each year from the crown, making for a bushier, fuller appearance.  When flowering is finished, the large dry seed pods are easy to harvest, each containing many seeds to collect and share.  They are super easy to grow and sprout quickly in regular potting mix, with no special preparation, under just a bit of soil.  For some summer sizzle in your sunny garden, try these excellent, easy natives!

Tammany Baumgarten is a New Orleans Master Gardener and the current President of the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans. The Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans will be hosting Mallow Madness, a native hibiscus give-away, on August 22nd, 8-10am, at First Grace Methodist Church, 3401 Canal Street in New Orleans.  See the website, for updates and more info.