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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.

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.