November 1, 2021 New Orleans, La.
The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) has begun preparations for iris planting events during the next three months. The usual starting time for planting irises is in September, but this year's planting schedule has been delayed because of the dry, warm weather the area has experienced this fall. "Unfortunately we'll need to cram five months of iris plantings into three," says LICI's board of directors member, Gary Salathe. He added that even though the winter rains have still not begun, "We have some wet sites in marshes and swamps that we can plant some of the irises now as we wait for the rains to arrive to plant in the higher areas where we have projects."
LICI estimates that they have 4,000 irises currently growing in their iris holding area that are ready to be planted out in their projects.
LICI's iris holding area is located in the lower ninth ward neighborhood of New Orleans. It is next to the local marsh restoration non-profit, Common Ground Relief's, wetlands nursery. They are allowing them to use property that they own for LICI iris holding area free of charge. LICI picks up the grass cutting cost for the site, the cost of the water they use and all soil, containers and equipment used for the irises.
LICI locates native species of the Louisiana iris that are threatened with destruction, typically from development. They organize volunteer rescue events to relocate the irises after receiving the landowner's permission to remove them.
Volunteers are seen at a LICI "iris rescue" in Des Allemands, La on July 10, 2021. The landowner had been maintaining the ditch in front of his property along Hwy 90 for years as a miniature wetland area. It had Louisiana irises and other native swamp plants growing in it. The irises there were naturally occurring. He has the property for sale and believes the state highway maintenance department will begin spraying the ditch with a herbicide, as they do with all of the other ditches on either side of his property for miles in each direction. He offered the irises to LICI to use in their iris restoration projects.
LICI usually schedules their iris rescues from May through July. "August is not a good time to dig irises because they are dormant then," explains LICI's Gary Salathe. The rescued irises are planted in containers at the LICI iris holding area within a couple of days of being rescued. They are planted using rich soil in containers that hold water to mimic a swamp. This allows the irises to strengthen up by the start of the usual planting season in October. Irises grow from September through May. "Its one of the few plants in Louisiana whose growth season is during winter," Salathe says.
LICI rescues the I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris, which is native to southeast Louisiana. The photo above is of I. giganticaerulea irises blooming at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in 2021 that are part of LICI's iris restoration project at the refuge. Many of the irises were planted in 2020. They came from LICI's iris holding area after being rescued earlier in the year.
LICI organizes volunteer events to plant the irises within the protected habitats of Southeast/south-central Louisiana refuges or nature preserves after they acquire the necessary permits. Most of the locations have raised boardwalks. Their goal is to increase the public's awareness of this Louisiana native plant. "Our mission is to make people aware of these boardwalks, their Louisiana irises and the habitat they are growing in because the old saying 'out of sight, out of mind' is true. Its hard to get people motivated about saving a habitat and its flora if they have never seen it up close and personal," Salathe says.
Huge numbers of people went out to see the irises blooming at LICI's projects during the first part of April in 2021.
LICI has a long list of locations that have asked to have irises planted this winter. "We have a lot of work to do in just a few months, but we should be able to make everyone happy," Salathe sums up.