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Updated: Dec 16, 2022

December 4, 2022 Grand Isle, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) has completed two Louisiana iris plantings at their iris restoration project at The Nature Conservancy's Grilletta Tract in Grand Isle, La. The group finished up this season's iris planting with a volunteer event on Saturday, December 3, 2022, when an estimated 400 irises were planted. An earlier iris planting in November resulted in about 600 irises being planted.

Photo: Volunteers work to plant hundreds of Louisiana irises at The Nature Conservancy's Grilletta Tract of its Lafitte Woods properties in Grand Isle, La. on November 6, 2022.

LICI is a Louisiana non-profit corporation formed by individuals interested in preserving and restoring the Louisiana iris in habitats where it once grew in abundance. They "rescue" native species of the Louisiana iris that are threatened with destruction and relocate them to protected areas where they can also be viewed by the public in refuges and nature preserves. The group has completed iris plantings and has iris restoration projects throughout south Louisiana.

Photo: The iris being planted by LICI at the Grilletta Tract boardwalk in Grand Isle, La. is the I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris, which is native to Grand Isle, according to The Nature Conservancy's biologist.

The first planting of Louisiana irises on the Grilletta Tract was done in 2019 by the Grand Isle Garden Club using irises rescued from a site west of New Orleans where they were threatened with destruction when a gravel parking lot was extended. Since that time LICI has been back to the Grilletta Tract numerous times to plant more irises. "There are likely a few thousand irises now growing there," says LICI's president, Gary Salathe. He said the plan is to use the freshwater bog where the irises have been planted as a location for them to grow and expand in number. They can then be thinned out in future years to transplant to other tracts of land within the Lafitte Woods.

Photo: Some of the volunteers are shown planting irises at the second 2022 winter iris planting in Grand Isle, La.

Volunteers from LICI also helped remove debris from the boardwalk area after Hurricane Zeta in 2020 and Hurricane Ida in 2021. "One of the things we hope to accomplish with these iris plantings is to help Grand Isle recover their tourism industry from the setbacks caused by these two major hurricanes," Salathe says. LICI heavily promoted the irises at the boardwalk when they were in bloom during April and have been told that it resulted in many people from outside of the area traveling to Grand Isle to see them.

Photo: LICI's volunteers work to clear hurricane debris from the boardwalk in Grand Isle after Hurricane Ida in 2021.

The Nature Conservancy’s Grand Isle properties are there to preserve what were once large stands of trees, including live oaks, that covered the entire island. These trees are the first that birds have to rest on after arriving at Grand Isle from their long journey flying across the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico through the central flyway from Central and South America. It's also the last chance for birds to rest after coming from across the central areas of the United States on their way back in the fall before crossing the Gulf of Mexico. Birders from around the country come to Grand Isle and this tract of land because it offers them the chance to see a congregation of different bird species within a small area.

A secondary goal of The Nature Conservancy for their Grand Isle properties is to preserve, increase, or reestablish native plants that grow or have grown on the island. "That's where the irises come in," Salathe says. "It's nice that our goals overlap. We look forward to continuing our partnership with The Nature Conservancy on this project for a long time into the future," Salathe sums up.

Photo: An example of one of the old-growth live oak tree forests found within the Lafitte Woods of the Nature Conservancy properties in Grand Isle, La. Because the two recent hurricanes have opened up areas of the tree canopy, it may allow irises to flourish there. Jean Landry, program manager for The Nature Conservancy properties in Grand Isle, spent some time with LICI's Gary Salathe after the iris planting on Saturday, December 3rd to look over sites like this for potential test plantings of Louisiana irises to see if they could become the locations for future larger plantings.

Photo: The volunteers for the November 6, 2022, Louisiana iris planting at The Nature Conservancy property in Grand Isle, La. are shown.

Photo: The volunteers for the December 3, 2022, Louisiana iris planting at The Nature Conservancy property in Grand Isle, La. are shown.

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Updated: Dec 4, 2022

December 3, 2022 Des Allemands, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) made contact with a landowner along Hwy 90 in the town of Des Allemands, LA two years ago when they noticed he had put his family's land up for sale. They had been admiring the Louisiana irises each year when they bloomed that were growing in sections of the wet area in front of the property. The landowner's son had bush-hogged the ditch/wet area each year during the dry season. Because of this, it has never been sprayed with a herbicide by the state highway department. It was the only stretch of highway not sprayed, so the area had become a mini-wetland bog full of native swamp plants, including the Louisiana iris.

Photo: The Louisiana irises in bloom within the wet area in front of the Hwy 90 properties near Des Allemands, LA in April of 2021.

The landowner's son stopped maintaining the wet area once the property was put up for sale. The family had already sold a couple of parcels they created from the tract of land, and those new owners were not maintaining the wet area either. He told LICI that he believed it was only a question of time before the state would begin spraying the entire wet area to keep the drainage open along the highway. He encouraged them to get the irises out and relocate them to a safer location.

Photo: LICI volunteers digging irises from the Hwy 90 wet area during an iris rescue on July 10, 2021.

"Over the last two years, we have held at least three iris rescues at the property that has netted about 3,500 I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris," LICI's Gary Salathe says. This species of the Louisiana iris is the native wild iris found in that area.

Then in mid-November, the worse fears of the group were realized when the state Highway department sprayed the wet area from one end to the other with a herbicide. About 90% of the Louisiana irises that were in the parcels that LICI had not been able to rescue the irises yet were sprayed.

Photo: The sprayed wet area as seen on December 3, 2022 when one of LICI's volunteers was passing by the property and discovered they had been sprayed with a herbicide.

Salathe said, 'We are trying to stay focused on the positive; we'd like to thank our many volunteers who came out and worked hard to save the irises we rescued from this property during our three rescues. We'd also like to thank the volunteers who helped plant some of them at our iris-holding area and then maintained them. Then there are the volunteers that got down in the muck and planted the rescued irises from this property into their new homes at area refuges and nature preserves. Thank you. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support and encouragement of the landowner. Thank you very much."

Photo: A close-up view of some of the Louisiana irises sprayed recently in a roadside wet area where LICI has been working to remove them.

Salathe continued, "It is a wonderful thing that all of these volunteers have done to get out a total of 3,500 irises that we "rescued" from this property. That is something to be proud of. All of those irises would have been sprayed 1 1/2 weeks ago if we hadn't rescued them. Instead, they were planted at the Lockport, LA boardwalk, the Grand Isle, LA Nature Conservancy boardwalk, the Cajun Coast Visitor's Center in Morgan City, LA, and the Bayou Sauvage refuge in New Orleans, LA where they are all living life large!" He said it is a "bittersweet win that we got most of the irises out. Even though we did not get them all, we'll still take the win. This is what we do."

Photo: Some of the irises rescued from the Hwy 90 property are shown blooming at the Cajun Coast Visitor's Center in Morgan City, La. during April of 2022.

Photo: Some of the irises rescued from the Hwy 90 property are shown blooming at the Lockport, La. Wetlands Elevated board in April of 2022.

Photo: Some of the irises rescued from the Hwy 90 property are shown blooming at The Nature Conservancy boardwalk in Grand Isle, La. in April of 2022.

Photo: Some of the irises rescued from the Hwy 90 property are shown blooming at the Bayou Sauvage National Urban Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans, La. in April of 2021.

"It is easy to get lulled into complacency when a few years go by, and nothing happens at a site where it's obvious that the irises are threatened. This is a lesson we already know and now have just been reminded of; you need to get those irises out as soon as you can," Salathe sums up.

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Updated: Jan 29

November 20, 2022 Mandeville, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) held a Louisiana iris planting event at the Pelican Park Recreation District #1 located near Mandeville, LA. on November 19th. This was the second planting event LICI held there since the project began in late 2021. Even though it was a cold, damp morning with rain threatening, over 30 volunteers came out to plant the estimated 800 irises.

Pelican Park is a taxpayer-supported park near Fontainebleau State Park and the Northlake Nature Center. It is 550 acres in size and consists of 32 athletic fields, a 3-court gym, a 4-court gym, the 46,000 square foot multi-purpose Castine Center, paved roads, a walking trail, dog park, batting skate park, sand volleyball courts, 18 hole disc golf course, and parking for over 1,700 vehicles.

LICI was contacted in August of 2021 by Louisette Scott, Environmental Educator for Pelican Park, about finding locations on their property to plant Louisiana irises. Part of Louisette's responsibilities is to manage and increase the number of native plants growing within the park. An agreement was quickly reached that allowed LICI to use a low detention area and a nearby long linear detention area as the location for the irises to be planted.

The iris planting site is near the park's Gold and Silver Complexes parking lots within a portion of the disc golf course.

LICI currently has six locations in public places, including Pelican Park, where they plant rescued irises as a place for them to multiply on their own without any maintenance being needed. The landowners in each of the six locations have agreed to allow LICI access to the irises to thin them out in future years to use on other iris restoration projects. "This gets the irises out of harm's way where they are currently growing in locations where they are threatened with destruction and "parks" them in a protected location where we can have future access to them. Its a win/win deal for all involved, is the way we see it", says Gary Salathe, a board of directors member of LICI and the lead for them on the Pelican Park project.

The six locations are in addition to LICI's usual public planting sites at area wildlife refuges, and nature preserves where they plant the irises in their natural habitat.

The linear detention area is shown next to the Silver Complex parking area before the grass and weeds were cut in early September.

The blooming irises will be in view to the public, which furthers LICI's goal of raising awareness of this native Louisiana plant. "Over 1 million visitors per year use the park. On any given weekend day there could be as many as 12,000 people attending various organized sporting events", Executive Director of the park, Margie Lewis says.

Some irises were planted as a test in the long detention area at Pelican Park in January 2022. To everyone's surprise, many of them bloomed just three months later, as shown in the photo.

The plan was for the park's maintenance crews to cut the grass twice yearly in the detention areas while the irises are dormant from July to early September. The plan worked well at the long detention area this summer, but the crews were too concerned about hurting the irises in the main detention area, so it was not cut. "That was unfortunate because we ended up having to cut it with hand-held weed-eaters with bush blades just before our November planting event", LICI's Gary Salathe says. He added that he now has a direct line of communication with the grounds crew manager and they'll work together on the cutting schedule next year.

Volunteers from LICI cut the grass in the main planting area using a weed-eater with a brush blade a week before the November 19th iris planting.

The I. giganticaerulea species iris from the LICI iris rescue program was used for the planting on November 19th at Pelican Park.

The irises planted during the November 19th event came from LICI's iris rescue program. Many of the irises were rescued last March and have been growing at LICI's iris holding area in New Orleans to strengthen up for transplanting this autumn.

Volunteers begin to arrive for the iris planting on November 19th.

Although there were many positive responses to the Facebook event posting, it was uncertain how many people would actually come out to help. The weather forecast called for a cold drizzly rain to begin at noon, but the radar showed that the rain could arrive much earlier. The event was scheduled for 9 AM until noon.

Volunteers begin planting the trailer full of irises at the main planting site in the larger detention area.

Everyone was pleasantly surprised when over 30 volunteers showed up ready to work. The group included members of multiple Boy Scout Troops, one member of a Girl Scout Troop, and several students from Southeastern University. Members of the St. Tammany Master Gardeners Association helped out as did some of LICI's volunteers, along with members of the public.

The volunteers were from all age groups.

Everyone worked hard and finished up a little early, which worked out well because it started to drizzle just as everyone was leaving.

LICI's Salathe says, "We are very appreciative of all of the hard work that went into making this iris planting possible, from the volunteers that rescued the irises, the volunteers that maintained the irises over the last eight months, and to the volunteers on the 19th that got them all planted."

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