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.