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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.

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October 30, 2021 New Orleans, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) has completed their Chinese tallow tree eradication project for 2021 on the US Fish & Wildlife Services Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans, La. It is estimated that 3,000 - 4,000 Chinese Tallow trees were killed by a small group of LICI volunteers working throughout 2021 using the "hack and squirt" method.

LICI volunteer, Richard Bosworth, demonstrates the first step in using the hack and squirt application to kill Chinese tallow trees, cutting, or "hacking," a ring around the tree using a hatchet. Only two or three cuts are typically needed on smaller diameter trees.

Hack-and-squirt herbicide applications are one of the least expensive manual herbicide application methods. This method introduces the herbicide into the stem using spaced cuts made at a convenient height, below the last live branch, around the trunk. Using a hatchet or similar device, frill cuts, or downward-angled incisions, are made evenly spaced around the stem, one per inch of diameter.

Removing or killing undesirable trees is a forestry industry-recognized forest management tool. Hack-and-squirt, also known as a frill and spray herbicide application, offers the most target-specific, efficient, and economical means for controlling unwanted trees. In this case, the undesirable tree is the Chinese tallow tree. It is an invasive tree species found throughout Louisiana and many other southern states.

This photo shows the second step of the hack and squirt application, the "squirt."

A small amount of herbicide is sprayed into each cut.

Herbicide applications to this undesirable tree facilitate the regeneration or growth of native trees in the mixed-species stands of live oak, hackberry and cypress trees found on the refuge by eliminating the Chinese tallow tree as competition to these trees.

The Chinese tallow tree can resprout from cut stumps when a herbicide is not applied.

The Chinese tallow is a drought-tolerant tree native to China and Japan. It was first introduced in South Carolina during the 1700s as an ornamental tree and then for making soap from seed oils. It can be found from eastern North Carolina southward to Florida. From Florida, it spread westerly through Louisiana and Arkansas into Texas.

Chinese tallow trees can be identified by broad, waxy-green leaves, which often have an extended tip or “tail.” New growth briefly appears reddish.

In the early 1900's it was used as an ornamental tree in Louisiana because most of Louisiana's native trees do not produce fall-colored leaves. The Chinese tallow tree does.

The Chinese tallow tree can be easily spotted in Louisiana forests when its leaves change color in late fall. Once this happens, the green color starts to fade from the leaves, and then reds, oranges, and yellows become visible. The leaves from most of Louisiana's

native hardwood trees turn brown in color.

The Chinese tallow tree can reach a height of 40 feet and a width of 3 feet in diameter. Its deep taproot allows the tree to hydrate in drought conditions. It will reach its full potential height when located in an area that receives plenty of moisture, like those found along the edges of Louisiana's wetlands. In dryer locations, it is less broad and does not grow as tall.

There are very few large, mature Chinese tallow trees, like the one shown above, in the Bayou Sauvage refuge because they were destroyed along with most of the mature

native trees by Hurricane Katrina's strong winds.

The Chinese tallow’s other common name, “grey popcorn tree,” is based on the form of the mature seed pods, which turn black and open to reveal white, waxy seeds. These seeds develop from greenish fruit, which appears in clusters at branch tips during September and October. The tree is primarily spread through seed dispersal from birds or water.

Chinese tallow tree seeds.

Chinese tallow trees can live up to 100 years old. It can produce seeds when it is only three years old. Each mature tree can put out up to 100,000 seeds per year. Seeds remain viable in the soil for two to five years.

Birds' digestive system will dissolve the waxy outer coating of the Chinese tallow tree's seed, but not the inner seed itself. This allows the birds to spread the seeds far and wide.

The Chinese tallow trees on the refuge took advantage of the vast areas of bare ground that were created by 2005's Hurricane Katrina's destruction to get a head start on the native trees that would have reforested the damaged areas. Since the Chinese tallow trees grow faster than native tree species, they out-competed most of these trees that naturally tried to grow back into these areas.

Before and after Hurricane Katrina, photos of the same section of the Ridge Trail

boardwalk are seen above.

This photo, taken in December of 2021, is of the same area of the Ridge Trail boardwalk shown in the pictures above. It shows how young Chinese tallow trees filled the

spaces between the larger trees that survived Hurricane Katrina.

The Chinese tallow tree grows extremely fast. Growth rates of 7 feet to 13 feet per year have been documented for seedlings. "The tallow trees will out-compete all of the native trees, eventually shading over them and killing them off," says LICI's Gary Salathe. He is LICI's project leader for their tallow tree eradication at the refuge.

LICI started the Chinese tallow tree eradication project at the Bayou Sauvage refuge after receiving a US Fish & Wildlife permit in January of 2021. The refuge supplies the herbicide used to kill the tallow trees. It began as an offshoot of a multi-year project the organization has to introduce the Louisiana iris. Irises once grew in abundance at the refuge. Still, they were thought to have been killed off as another casualty of Hurricane Katrina's salt saltwater storm surge that flooded the refuge for weeks after the storm.

Photo: The Ridge Trail Boardwalk at the US Fish & Wildlife Services Bayou Sauvage

National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans east.

Salathe says LICI's original plan was to kill off the Chinese tallow trees only along the shoreline of the old Bayou Sauvage within the area of the refuge's Ridge Trail boardwalk to create new places for irises to be planted. He began a one morning each week event for a small number of volunteers to work on killing the tallow trees.

Photo (left to right) Tres Fisher, Richard Bosworth, and Aaron Hunter after coming out of the woods from working 2 1/2 hours on the tallow trees. Along with Gary Salathe, this group worked one day each week through most of 2021, eradicating Chinese Tallow trees using the "hack and squirt" method.

Once work began on the tallow trees, the volunteers quickly discovered young cypress and live oak trees that other volunteers had planted in the past. These trees were located away from the bayou shoreline. Many had died from being shaded out by the tallow trees. The trees that were left were also crowded and shaded by the faster-growing tallow trees, which also threatened their survival. The goal was then expanded into killing off all of the tallow trees in the boardwalk area by the fall of 2022. Some of the trees that LICI's volunteers discovered came from this tree planting in 2015:

This wintertime photo shows an area of the Bayou Sauvage refuge where a pure stand of Chinese tallow trees canopied over and shaded out native trees trying to grow there.

As more and more of these areas were discovered, it became apparent that a

reforestation effort would be needed once the tallow trees were killed off.

The areas cleared of tallow trees created the need for them to be replanted with native trees. LICI decided in September to embark on a new project to reforest these areas during the winter of 2021/2022 with native trees. "Without planting native trees in these areas, they would just be taken over by tallow trees again," Salathe said. He added that LICI's tallow tree eradication crew plan to go through the areas each year where the new native trees will be planted to kill off any Chinese tallow trees that attempt to grow back. The hope is that the native trees will create a canopy that will shade out any Chinese tallow trees that try to get reestablished in a few years.

LICI's volunteers working on the Chinese tallow tree eradication project found this stand of bald cypress on the refuge planted about nine years ago. The trees were able to grow tall enough to shade out any other competing trees before the Chinese tallow trees

could get established. It's what they hope will happen in a few years to

the new trees they plant this winter.

LICI has plans to start back up a 2022 version of the once-each-week Chinese tallow tree eradication project work-morning as soon as they are finished planting trees this winter.

LICI's Chinese tallow tree eradication project's goals are shown on this map.

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October 15, 2021 New Orleans

On August 29,2021, 16 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina came close to wiping southeast Louisiana off of the map with 28-foot high storm-surge tides, Hurricane Ida made its appearance in the same area of the state. While Hurricane Zeta and Katrina stayed on a track to the east of New Orleans, Hurricane Ida’s center traveled to the west of New Orleans. This put the stronger south and southeasterly winds that are found on the east side of any hurricane directly over iris country in southeast Louisiana.

Louisiana iris distribution and recent hurricanes in Southeastern Louisiana: Hurricane Ida's path is shown in red. The winds on the right side of every hurricane blow from the south and then the east as the storm approaches. This map shows why the high storm-surge tide was so destructive compared to other storms to a huge area of marsh and swamp that is home to the Louisiana iris species I. giganticaerulea (shown in blue). The city of New Orleans is on the south side of Lake Pontchartrain.

The reports are slowly coming in on the damage to the boardwalks and irises in the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) projects. It seems that even though the damage to the irises has been far worse than from 2020's Hurricane Zeta, none of the stands of irises in these projects have been totally wiped out, as the photos below show. However, at the Town of Jean Lafitte boardwalk, which likely experienced the worst damage, it is still unclear if there are many irises left because the irises are mixed in with tall grasses in the swamp away from the boardwalk, so the irises are hard to see.

The town of Jean Lafitte Elevated Boardwalk before and after volunteers from LICI and Common Ground Relief cleared off the storm debris.

Although LICI is optimistic about the impact on the irises in their projects, they are not optimistic for the irises in the entire area of southeast Louisiana. Tens of thousands of the I. giganticaerulea species of Louisiana iris growing on floating land south of New Orleans were likely destroyed when Hurricane Ida carved off huge chunks that floated out into open salt water. The result is that the area has likely just lived through an event here that has done more catastrophic damage to the wild irises of southeast Louisiana in one day than any other event that has happened since Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

These before and after photos show just one area of floating land, called flotant, that was broken free because of Hurricane Ida's winds and floated away. It is likely that there were large stands of I. giganticaerulea growing in the flotant.

This photo shows an area of flotant that has broken free and was seen floating out into the open waters of Barataria Bay. It had been established for so long that trees had rooted in and grown on it.

The eye of Hurricane Ida passed directly over the town of Lockport's elevated boardwalk, which is the site of one of LICI's restoration projects. LICI's local volunteer, Mike Glaspell, headed up the effort to clean off and repair the boardwalk. The irises survived the storm and are doing well.

The irises in LICI's Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge project have survived the hurricane, but are struggling with a naturally occurring fungus called "rust". The picture on the right was taken in April.

The Northlake Nature Center had significant damage to their stands of old growth hardwood trees. The high water from this year's rains has threatened the irises. Hurricane Ida's heavy rain arrived just as the water level in the swamp was finally coming down. The picture on the right was taken in April.

The irises in LICI's Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge project have survived the hurricane, but are struggling after dealing with high water from the heavy rains this year. The water level was finally dropping when the rains from Hurricane Ida raised it up again. The picture on the right was taken in April.

The area shown above is part of a LICI iris restoration project in Fontainebleau State Park. It was totally submerged by 3 feet of water from the storm-surge tide of Hurricane Ida. Being under water actually protected the irises from the wind and waves. All of the irises appear to have survived. The picture on the right was taken in April.

Hurricane Ida's high tides impacted the Joyce Wildlife Refuge boardwalk, a location for one of LICI's most successful iris restoration projects. Most of the irises that were growing in the semi-liquid swamp muck have disappeared. Hopefully, they were just pushed further back into the swamp and will reestablish themselves there. The irises that were growing on the flotant did well. They likely floated up with the storm-surge and settled back down intact once the tide went out. The photo on the left was taken in April. The same area is shown on the right one week after the storm. A recent visitor to the boardwalk told us the irises are starting to peek up from under the debris at that spot.

Hurricane Ida's 36" deep saltwater storm surge covered LICI's iris restoration area on The Nature Conservancy's property in Grand Isle, La., which is a Gulf Of Mexico coastal barrier island. Nearby neighborhoods drain through the bog where the irises are located. The freshwater run-off from heavy rains just after the storm must have flushed out the salt residue because reports from the site are that the irises not only survived the hurricane, but are now thriving. The photo on the left was taken in April.

LICI reports that there are still a few areas where they have iris restoration projects that they have not been able to visit yet due to their still needing to be cleared of debris. Gary Salathe, board of directors member of LICI, said, "Like everyone else in southeast Louisiana, we will pick ourselves up and carry on with our work. We are all motivated by our love for Louisiana and a desire to do our small part in preserving the plants and habitat that makes this state so special."

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