April 16, 2021 Lockport, La.
There was quite an iris show at the Lockport, La. swamp boardwalk during three weeks at the end of March and the beginning of April. The red colored native Louisiana iris, I. fulva, was blooming along the road shoulder of the entrance road while the blue colored I. giganticaerulea Louisiana iris was blooming on either side the boardwalk.
The Lockport, La boardwalk is located at:
6419 LA-308, Lockport, LA 70374
Although the I. fulva species iris, otherwise known as the “Copper Iris”, have been growing and blooming on the road shoulder and ditch for years, this is the first year that the I. giganticaerulea species iris, otherwise known as the “Giant Blue" iris, has been present along the boardwalk. That was a direct result of a project being completed by the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) to introduce these native Louisiana irises into the swamp at the boardwalk.
There were no Giant Blue irises growing near the boardwalk prior to LICIs planting even though they are native to the area. “Its likely that the iris can be found growing somewhere out in this swamp, but like other boardwalks where we have planted irises, it would be a shame if the public visiting the boardwalk does not get a chance to see this wonderful native Louisiana plant blooming just because none happened to growing nearby”, says LICI board of directors’ member, Gary Salathe.
“Giant Blue" irises blooming at the Lockport, La boardwalk April, 2021.
Photo by Mike Glaspell.
One of the goals of the group is to reintroduce this native plant to the public, which has been part of the culture of south Louisiana for generations. “Prior to all of the road shoulders being sprayed with a herbicide, which started about thirty years ago by the parishes’ road maintenance crews, wild Louisiana irises could be seen blooming for miles in the roadside ditches each spring”, Salathe says. “The younger generation of today did not have an opportunity to experience seeing wild native irises blooming until these boardwalks began being built. We have taken on the job of making sure there are irises growing alongside them. Its very difficult to motivate the public to preserve the wetlands and swamps of Louisiana with all of its native plants and animals if they can not go out and experience the habitat themselves. These boardwalks, which are raised above the swamp, allow that to be accomplished in a safe way,” he added.
Giant Blue irises blooming at the Lockport boardwalk April, 2021.
LICI was introduced to the Lockport boardwalk by two local naturalists, who are also amateur nature photographers; Henry Cancienne and Mike Glaspell. Henry drove fifty miles to attend an open house being held at the Joyce Wildlife Management Area near the Ponchatoula, La boardwalk three years ago during the iris bloom. He encouraged the volunteers he met to consider planting irises at the boardwalk in his hometown of Lockport, La. In 2020 some photos of hummingbirds feeding on the Copper Irises along the boardwalk entrance road were posted on Facebook by Mike Glaspell, which further got the attention of LICI volunteers.
Copper Irises blooming at the Lockport, La. Photo by Mike Glaspell.
A meeting was set up at the boardwalk to see if the site could be included in LICI’s iris relocation program. At the meeting a decision was quickly made that some irises would be brought in and planted as a test to see how they would do before a commitment would be made to plant more.
Mike contacted the landowner, through the landowner's representative - parish councilman Armand Autin, who also consulted with Lafourche parish staff about the proposed iris planting at the boardwalk. The councilman worked with the head of road maintenance
to be sure the road shoulders would not be cut until after the iris bloom. The parish president, Archie Chaisson III, was also informed and he gave his wholehearted endorsement of the iris planting.
Volunteers planting irises during the second planting. Photo by Henry Cancienne.
Cody A. Gray, President & CEO of Louisiana's Cajun Bayou Tourism, Larourche parish’s tourist bureau, also got involved by putting together marketing to be released as soon as the irises began to bloom. The Louisiana's Cajun Bayou Tourism visitor’s center for the parish is located on Hwy 90 only a few miles from the boardwalk. The staff were briefed on the boardwalk and its irises so that they could direct visitors to it.
Near the middle of December, 2020 over 200 irises were planted. The irises came from LICI’s program where irises that are threatened with destruction in their current location are relocated to the safety of a boardwalk. Henry, his wife, Mike and a LICI volunteer got the irises planted. After six weeks it became apparent that the irises were doing well, so a second planting was organized and completed.
All was set and everyone was ready for the iris bloom to begin. The marketing would start to let the public know about the boardwalk and its irises as soon as they started blooming.
Then something happened which foretold of things to come.
Mike had been stalking a bobcat at the boardwalk for the last year trying to get a clear photo of this nocturnal and very wary animal. He finally scored a great shot (seen below) and posted it onto his Facebook page. LICI shared his posting and included a description of the boardwalk and the irises that were planted there. The posting promptly went viral with over 20,000 people having it posted to their Facebook page newsfeed. Needless to say, this put the Lockport boardwalk “on the map”!
Mike Glaspell's "Bobcat at the Lockport Boardwalk" photo that went viral and was posted on over 20,000 people's Facebook page newsfeeds.
As the irises began to bloom an article showed up in a local newspaper and then the boardwalk and its blooming irises were mentioned in a Forbes Magazine online article. It turned out that Cody Gray had sent out a news release about the boardwalk that a number of news sources picked up and included in their articles, including Forbes Magazine.
One of Mile Glaspell's photos showing a hummingbird feeding on Copper Irises
blooming along the road shoulder of the Lockport boardwalk entrance road, April, 2021.
Bumblebee at Copper Iris. Lockport boardwalk April, 2021. Photo by Mike Glaspell
As the iris bloom progressed Henry and Mike kept a steady stream of photos coming into LICI of the blooming irises and the wildlife at the boardwalk, sometimes together, that were posted onto the LICI Facebook page. Some of Mike’s close up photos of hummingbirds and bumblebees feeding at the irises also went viral and suddenly the boardwalk was on birdwatchers and native plant enthusiasts’ radar screen!
All of this was taking place at the same time that the COVID 19 restrictions were being relaxed and everyone was ready to get out and do things on the days when the spring weather was beautiful.
The result was a wonderful turnout at the boardwalk by the public, with many people in the area saying they didn’t know it even existed until they read about the irises blooming on Facebook or in the news.
All of the Giant Blue irises bloomed even though some of them were planted late in the season. The red Copper Irises bloomed along the road shoulder and in the entrance road ditch like they have never done before.
Photo by Mike Glaspell of a River Otter in the swamp at the Lockport boardwalk.
It was all a very huge success.
LICI has plans to do one planting of rescued Giant Blue irises sometime in May and will be back with a significant iris planting this fall.
Who knows, maybe Mike will capture a picture of a black bear frolicking among the blooming irises at the boardwalk next spring and really get crowds of people out !?!