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July 28, 2021 Barataria, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) held a volunteer event in Barataria, La. today to rescue irises from destruction in a roadside ditch. The volunteers dug up the last 400 irises from Cindy Baucum's land and also collected iris seed pods. Another 200 irises had been dug up two weeks before by other LICI volunteers.

The irises growing in the ditch are the I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris, which is native to the area.

The ditch where the irises were to be removed today is overgrown with other marsh plants that are crowding out the irises.

Cindy Baucum's deceased husband, Joe Baucum, had planted the irises in the ditch many years ago. Over the years he had successfully kept the parish road maintenance crews from spraying the ditch with a herbicide by putting up signs and by going out and meeting with the crews before they got to his stretch of road. Cindy felt like it was just a matter of time before the maintenance crews would spray the ditch or clean it out as they had done in 2013, so she contact LICI about donating the remaining irises that were still surviving.

On the morning of the event to dig up the last of Cindy Baucum's irises the volunteers discovered that the entire five mile length of the highway leading to her home had been sprayed with a herbicide within the last week. Fortunately, the road maintenance crews remember Joe Baucum's wish and they stopped spraying right at his property line.

LICI agreed that the irises they would rescue from Cindy's ditch would be planted at the town of Jean Lafitte Wetlands Trace Boardwalk in Joe Baucum's memory. Joe Baucum led a four man crew of volunteers to build the one mile long boardwalk in 2002. The boardwalk is the location of a multi-year iris restoration project being done by LICI.

Work begins digging up the irises on the hot, humid July morning.

The town of Jean Lafitte held their Seafood Festival in June. The town's Wetlands Trace Boardwalk was a key part of the festival with hundreds of people using it. The mayor is committed to keeping the boardwalk well maintained and is very supportive of LICI's iris restoration project there and is encouraging them to plant more irises. Non-profits and governmental agencies involved in coastal marsh restoration projects held informational booths open as part of the festival.

Volunteers from the local area are shown removing weeds from the irises as they are dug up.

A number of years ago the town of Jean Lafitte held an iris festival and now there is talk of reviving it as a coastal restoration event during the iris bloom along the boardwalk next spring. The idea is that the only "vendor" booths at the festival would be non-profits and governmental agencies involved in restoration projects of Louisiana's swamp and marsh habitat. They would actually be holding open informational booths instead of traditional vendor booths selling things.

The town currently has a 3,500 square foot Wetlands Educational Center under construction at the entrance to its Wetlands Trace boardwalk. The proposed coastal restoration event/iris festival would be centered at this new facility.

The volunteers also removed over one hundred ripe seed pods from the irises they dug up. The seeds pods will be opened at a later day and their seeds broadcast out along town's boardwalk.

LICI's plan will be to use the irises they collected today to increase the number of irises along the boardwalk this fall/winter. They will spend the next few months strengthening up by growing in containers at the LICI iris holding area in New Orleans.

The volunteers dug up the last 400 irises and collected 50 iris seed pods.

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July 20, 2021 New Orleans, La.

A project of the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) now has an important historical aspect to it. Here's the story:

The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815 as the last event in the War of 1812 between the British and the new American nation. The battle was fought between a professional British army and a rag-tag, thrown together, US military force that resulted in a victory for the young United States over what was then a world power.

The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815. Unbeknownst to the participates of the battle, a treaty had been signed eighteen days before by the United States and Britain,

ending the war of 1812.

In 1855 there were plans for a monument to be built near the location of the earthworks that the Americans, lead by Andrew Jackson, stood behind to successfully repulse the British. It was not completed until the land was transferred to the federal government in 1907 because funding was in short supply.

In 1864 the Union Army established a cemetery to bury its Civil War dead near the site of this famous battleground. Over the years soldiers from nearly all of America’s wars have been buried in this hallowed ground called the Chalmette National Cemetery.

On August 10, 1939, Congress established Chalmette Battlefield as a National Historical Park. The two historic parcels of property have been separated from one another since the early 1800’s by a tract of land that was purchased by a “free man of color” by the name of Pierre Fazende. In 1856 he turned the land over to his son who divided the property into 33 lots and sold them to other free people of color. After the civil war some of the lots were sold to freed slaves, which would have given them ownership of property for the first time.

A recent painting of what the village of Fazendeville would have looked like in its prime.

A one-room school house, Baptist church, dance hall, grocery store and two barrooms appeared over the years as the single street slowly developed into a village. It became known as Fazendeville. It was home to thirty families living in thirty homes.

Life in Fazendeville remained tranquil and undisturbed for more than 100 years. But in 1962 a chain of events began, beyond the control of the families, that would forever change their lives. In that year area civic boosters began efforts to unite the Chalmette Battlefield with the Chalmette National Cemetery by taking possession of the field that laid between the two, which was the land that British soldiers marched across in their attack on the American lines. There was only one problem; the homes and buildings of Fazendeville sat on that land.

The idea was to create single large tract of land for the newly named Chalmette National Historic Park. The timing was to coincide with the sesquicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans on its 150th anniversary in 1965.

The village of Fazendeville was located right in the middle of the historic Chalmette battlefield.

The residents of Fazendeville were soon overwhelmed by the drive to combine these federal properties. In the “Can Do” age of the 1950’s and 1960’s many huge projects across the country moved forward using the accepted wisdom that even if whole communities needed to be displaced that wasn't enough of a reason to stop progress, so the legal process to expropriate their property began.


At the time, a typical new home in the area appraised for $16,500. The residents of Fazendeville were paid $6,000 for their old homes, making it financially impossible for many of them to find homes to replace the ones they had lost.

Some of the buildings in Fazendeville are shown in this photo. It was taken as planning was underway to expropriate the properties.

In early 1965 the last building in Fazendeville was bulldozed down and the debris hauled off. Within a year the ground was scraped clear so that if you looked very carefully only a slight indention could be seen of what was the old roadbed.

The photo shows the 1965 sesquicentennial event for the battlefield as it was underway.

Fast-forward to 2020.

Until the 1930’s the battlefield was bordered by a cypress swamp on the north with the river batture (wetland) along the Mississippi River on its south side. The site is in St. Bernard parish where Louisiana irises grew in vast numbers within its swamps and marshes throughout history. Because of this, the US Park Service approved a Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative proposed planting of native Louisiana irises in a bog that is located along the south side of the battlefield. It was only the second permit issued at the battlefield in the last ten years because of the rigorous criteria that is used to consider a proposed project on US National Park Service property. It was approved in part because it was thought by the park staff that there were no irises growing on the property.

This is what was found when the LICI volunteer walked out into the field for the first time in February, 2021.

On February 10, 2021, almost a year after the iris planting project was proposed, four LICI volunteers planted the first batch of test irises. When they were finished, one of them noticed a clump of what looked like Louisiana irises growing out in the field that was across the paved road from where they had worked. A few days later LICI received permission to walk the field and in the process it was discovered that there were multiple patches of Louisiana irises that included anywhere from one hundred to multiple hundreds of irises in each. It was just assumed these were wild, light blue I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris that’s native to the area that somehow had been overlooked by the park staff because the largest patches were a long way out from the road. Since the field is never cut in March or April there would be no reason for any of the park staff to be out in the field during the iris bloom.

LICI decided that they would gather up a group to walk the field during the iris bloom consisting of LICI’s supporters and some of the park staff that had become interested in the mystery of Louisiana irises growing in the middle of the battlefield, especially since it looked like the irises had been there for many years, if not decades.

Photo: Friends of LICI and staff of the US Park Service find the first patch of blooming Louisiana irises on the trip out into the field on March 29th. They estimated that there were a total of a few thousand Louisiana irises if all of the iris patches were combined.

On March 29th the group met in a small parking area on the paved road and started walking into the field. They quickly discovered that the irises were not the light blue I. giganticaerulea irises, but were lavender-purple, making them most likely the I. vinicolor iris. It’s what results from the first cross between the I. giganticaerulea and the I. fulva Louisiana irises. Every iris spread out over a long and narrow section of the field was the same-colored iris, with some slight variations in color found in just a few clumps.

I. vinicolor irises in one of the irises patches on the Chalmette Battlefield.

(Photo by Paul Christiansen)

Then the group came across a few clumps of plants in bloom that made them all stop in their tracks. It was a non-native plant, originally from Africa, called the crinum lily. Seeds of the crinum lily are known to have been brought to the Americas by slaves. It’s been grown in the home gardens of some black families since then, passed down from one generation to another, as a reminder of their heritage.

Some of the crinum lilies are seen blooming on the edge of one of the patches of irises.

(Photo by Paul Christiansen)

They then located the faint outline of the old Fazendeville roadbed. By following the roadbed through the field they figured out that all of the irises and crinum lilies were growing on only one side of the road, the side where the houses once stood. The clumps of irises also ended about where the rear line of the lots would have been.

Everyone later said they just stood there thinking what turned out being the same thought; that they had likely found the remnants and offspring of two species of plants that once grew in the gardens of homes in Fazendeville. Somehow, they have survived since the 1960's when the homes were moved or torn down and are now growing and spreading in the field right there in the middle of the Chalmette Battlefield as a silent reminder of the village and the people that once lived there.

Photo: One of only three small clumps of irises that were a little off colored. They appeared to have more of the red I. fulva color.

It makes sense that the I. vinicolor would have been the iris of choice for people in Fazendeville to grow. If there are tens of thousands of light blue colored I. giganticaerulea irises blooming along the roads in Chalmette and the red I. fulva along the Mississippi River batture nearby, you would have collected the more challenging to find wine-colored I. vinicolor iris to plant into your garden back in the first half of the 20th century. Fazendeville was located in a section of Chalmette where the distance separating the cypress swamps to the north holding the I. giganticaerulea iris and the Mississippi River batture holding I. fulva is the narrowest. There were likely at least a few I. vinicolor irises growing in the area as a result of the two cross-pollinating.

LICI is excited that what started off as a simple iris restoration project now has an important historical aspect to it. Plans are underway by LICI volunteers and the park staff to move some of the irises and crinum lilies to a location near the parking area and to install a written display to create a living memorial for the residents of Fazendeville.

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July 17, 2021 New Orleans, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) held a volunteer event at the US Fish & Wildlife Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans to open Louisiana iris seed pods. The see pods were collected earlier in the week by a GulfCorps member with Limitless Vistas of New Orleans from the irises near the refuge's Ridge Trail boardwalk.

Photo: The Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge is located within the city limits of New Orleans. Its one of the few US Fish & Wildlife refuges located within a urban area, although the area of New Orleans East where the refuge is located is sparsely populated.

The area near the viewing platform of the Ridge Trail boardwalk is where LICI has planted thousands of irises as part of a multi-year project to reintroduce the I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris back into the refuge. Saltwater flooding from hurricane Katrina decimated the native iris population in the refuge.

Photo: Volunteers are shown working planting irises near the Ridge Trail boardwalk viewing platform in the fall of 2020.

Photo: Louisiana irises blooming near the viewing platform in the spring of 2021. Each of the flowers created a seed pod, which holds between 25 and 60 individual seeds.

Over the last few months LICI has had a permit to eradicate Chinese Tallow trees in the area of the boardwalk viewing platform. This evasive tree species grows faster than the native trees. The tallow trees are now shading out native tree seedlings that were planted to reforest this area of the refuge after Hurricane Katrina's high winds cleared out swaths of mature forest. The tallow tree eradication effort has been successful in opening up lengths of shoreline in the swamp to sunlight as the tallow trees have died.

The purpose of the volunteer event was to remove the seeds from the iris seed pods. The seeds will be broadcast out at a future date into the muck along the new shoreline where there is now plenty of sunlight and not many competing plants. This is being done to help nature speed up the natural process of expanding the existing irises into these new areas.

Photo: Some of the volunteers working opening seed pods at the Bayou Sauvage refuge on July 17, 2021.

Volunteers from LICI, the Louisiana Master Naturalist of Greater New Orleans and Common Ground Relief worked under a pavilion at the entrance to the boardwalk opening the seed pods on Saturday, July 17th. An estimated 6,000 iris seeds were collected by the group.

Photo: Some of the volunteers are shown with the container full of iris seeds at the end of the morning.

More information on the LICI reintroducing the Louisiana iris project at the Bayou Sauvage refuge can be found here:

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