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!
Earlier this month, NPI took a road trip to Arnaudville for Acadiana Native Plant Project’s (ANPP) Yard-to-Habitat workshop. ANPP’s website states that the workshop is “designed to help homeowners and landscapers transform property, from small yards in town to big pastures in the country, to native habitat for pollinators, birds and other wildlife and improve ecological resilience.”
NPI president, Tammany Baumgarten, helped facilitate, working with a break out group on their designs and board members, Tanya Mennear and Cheryl Geiger, attended to learn how to offer this type of workshop in New Orleans. When the plans and plant lists were created, all attendees were invited to visit ANPP’s demonstration garden and greenhouse to purchase plants to be used in their habitat landscapes.
After a stroll through the demo garden and greenhouse, the board members joined some of the ANPP board and organization members at Bayou Teche Brewery for pizza and fellowship, further fostering the relationship between NPI and ANPP. The following day included visits to the incredible home gardens of ANPP leaders Phyllis Griffard and Lawrence Rozas.
ANPP is doing great things over in Acadiana. Check them out!
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 americanusHERE
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, www.homegrownnationalpark.org , or just go plant a few natives.
Louisiana Native Plant Society (LNPS) recently put out a statement on habitat gardening and best practices for ecological resilience. The Native Plant Initiative of GNO is aligned with this statement and supports property owners adherence to best practices of land and water conservation as crucial wildlife habitat. You can read the entire position statement HERE.
LNPS also created a communication toolkit for Louisiana native plant gardeners to explain to their neighbors the benefits of habitat gardening and for finding common ground with neighbors who may not understand why a property owner would choose to garden this way. Click HERE to view the toolkit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?