top of page

Latest news

from LICI


September 7, 2020 New Orleans, La.

Back in the early 1900’s Louisiana irises were so common in southeast Louisiana they were just thought of as weeds by the locals.  It was just a plant that clogged up their ditches. Their abundance was taken for granted.  But warnings began to appear in the following decades about how the draining and development of swamps threatened this native plant’s long-term survival. Caroline Dormon, Percy Viosca and Dr. John K. Small, each a botanist, naturalist and early environmentalist, gave the first warnings starting in the 1920’s as they began to publicize this native plant and its habitat. They saw the destruction first hand as they collected iris specimens from the swamp.  

Photo:  The two people in this photo are ignoring the blooming irises nearby because the irises were so common as to be unremarkable when the photo was taken. 

Back in the early 1900’s Louisiana irises were so common in southeast Louisiana they were just thought of as weeds by the locals.  It was just a plant that clogged up their ditches. Their abundance was taken for granted.  But warnings began to appear in the following decades about how the draining and development of swamps threatened this native plant’s long-term survival.Caroline Dormon, Percy Viosca and Dr. John K. Small, each a botanist, naturalist and early environmentalist, gave the first warnings starting in the 1920’s as they began to publicize this native plant and its habitat. They saw the destruction first hand as they collected iris specimens from the swamp.   

Photo: Estimated land lost (in blue) from Louisiana coastal wetlands since the 1800's.

The plight of coastal areas of Louisiana from natural subsidence and erosion which has been accelerated by man-made activities has been well publicized.  The irises have retreated back into the deepest reaches of the freshwater swamps as salt water has advanced inland.  Combined with the increased use of herbicides by governmental agencies for roadside maintenance, it has become increasingly difficult for the people of Southeast Louisiana to experience first-hand wild irises in bloom each spring. 

The result is that a whole generation in Southeast Louisiana has never seen the springtime bloom of wild irises.  It's difficult to motivate people into helping do something about this loss if they have never seen a wild iris blooming in its natural habitat.  As they say; "Out of sight, out of mind."

Photo:  Many of the parishes in Southeast Louisiana now rely on spraying roadside ditches with an herbicide to control weeds.  Unfortunately, many of these ditches once held huge numbers of native irises which put the annual iris bloom on full display to the public.

What has been less publicized is that Louisiana with the federal government’s help is fighting back against the land loss and salt water intrusion.  A master plan has been created and is being put into effect to do large scale marsh restoration projects using state and federal funds and money from the B.P. oil spill penalties.  The Mississippi River, hemmed in by levees since the late 1800’s, is once again being opened up into the marshes through new control structures that will allow much needed fresh water and silt deposits to push back the salt water and rebuild land.  Although no one believes this will ever reclaim all of the land that has been lost, early results show that land loss is slowing down and new land is being created in isolated areas where the first of these Mississippi River diversions have been built.

Photo: This is just some of the marsh restoration projects and Mississippi River diversions that are in various stages of being put into place or receiving approvals.

The marsh restoration projects are creating opportunities to reintroduce native plants into marshes that previously held brackish or salt water and now have returned to being fresh water.

Non-profit organizations have sprung up to begin reforesting these areas with cypress trees, so we asked a simple question, “Why not include native Louisiana iris species in this effort?”

We also discovered that all but two of the numerous swamp boardwalks found in the area’s wildlife refuges, national and state parks and public nature preserves had no Louisiana irises growing next to them. We felt that a real opportunity existed to bring the native Louisiana irises back into the public’s consciousness by planting irises along these boardwalks where they will be permanently protected and be in view to the public as they bloom each year.  Once this is accomplished our thought is that demand will increase for irises to be used in commercial and governmental marsh restoration projects, furthering our long-term goals.

The Boy Scout Road Trail boardwalk in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge is located in a marsh that decades ago changed from being a fresh water marsh into a brackish marsh and has now changed back into being a fresh water marsh.  Although there are thousands of irises growing on a trail less than 1/4 mile away, there were no irises growing along the boardwalk where a majority of the refuge visitors go to instead.

We then discovered that still to this day there were irises being destroyed because of properties being developed.

Photo: A parking lot expansion underway that threatens to bury the 2,000 Louisiana irises shown in the background.

We also found that there were many homeowners who had dug up wild irises years ago from nearby swamps and planted them in their ponds or around their homes and are happy to donate them now.

Photo: Iris giganticaerulea species Louisiana irises growing in the front yard of an individual that lives near a swamp. He dug up some wild irises a few years ago and planted them around his house.

We concluded that “rescuing” irises from being destroyed because of development and thinning out irises on homeowners’ properties offered us the possibility of a ready supply of plants to use in marsh restoration projects.

Our first step would be to plant these irises next to boardwalks that were being used by people to experience and learn about the swamp and marsh habitats.  It would allow them to see this unique native plant growing and blooming in its natural habitat, the first time for most of them. 

Since all of this involves hard, sweaty labor we set out to find younger volunteers that would help get the job done. We discovered that many young people want to help out in saving the environment and they felt that reintroducing irises back into the swamp as accomplishing this. We connected with local organizations that bring in college students from around the country to volunteer on marsh restoration projects and they included our iris restoration projects for their groups to work on.

Photo: Out-of-state college students working planting irises along a refuge boardwalk this past January as part of their five days of volunteerism trip to New Orleans.

With all of the pieces in place we spent the last two years developing the program through the Greater New Orleans Iris Society. In late 2018 to early 2019 we rescued and replanted 8,000 I. giganticaerulea irises. From October 2019 to January 2020 we rescued and replanted almost 13,000 more.

At many of the places where we planted the irises the managers and their staffs were being introduced to the Louisiana iris for the first time. Although irises may have been found somewhere on their properties, saving or managing the lowly iris was not on their priority list. However, they are now fully on board after two seasons of seeing the excitement the blooming irises created among visitors to their boardwalks.  The Louisiana iris has now moved up in importance.

In late April we launched the new non-profit Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) to continue the program on a much larger scale.

Photo:  LICI volunteer rescuing I. giganticaerulea species Louisiana irises recently from a site that is to be developed.

Then COVID 19 hit. But we discovered two things: There were enough people in our area that had time on their hands and were itching to get out of the house and accomplish something because of the lock-downs that we could still get volunteers and they were also willing to do more events than what we would typically expect. Even though we were working in smaller groups because of the social distancing requirements we were able to do more events because the volunteers had the time to give. At one point about six weeks ago we actually did two volunteer events on two different days in one week for two weeks back-to-back. (Whew!)

Photo: LICI volunteers are shown setting up the iris holding area in July. We kept the number of volunteers for each event to ten people or less in keeping with social distancing protocols for fighting the COVID 19 virus.

We solicited and received donations from various organizations to set up an iris holding area to plant the irises we rescued into containers for them to strengthen and grow to get them ready for planting in the marsh this fall and winter.

And that’s where we stand, as of today. We are hopeful that the college student volunteers from around the country will begin to return next spring.

Irises from rescue events in June, July and August are now growing at our iris holding area.

We believe we have close to 6,000 I. giganticaerulea species Louisiana irises growing in containers at our iris holding area. We’re taking a little break and then will start up again in October visiting sites and getting the needed permits to prepare for planting them. The demand for these irises is so great that we believe we can get all of these irises planted by the end of November and dig up a whole second batch for planting in January if the irises and local volunteers are available.

Our volunteer events will need to be spaced out and likely done on weekends now that things are loosening up on the COVID 19 lock-downs and many people in our area are going back to work.  We had hopes of rescuing and replanting 20,000 irises this season, but it will all depend on whether or not the volunteers are available. No matter, our plan is to give it our best shot. 

Stay tuned for future postings as things develop!!

More information on the restoration of Louisiana's marshes and swamps can be found in this excellent webinar:

More detail about the formation on the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative can be found in this Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater New Orleans' webinar with LICI's Gary Salathe as the guest presenter:


August 2, 2020 New Orleans, La.

Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative's summer iris rescue project has have come to an end with the a volunteer event being held on August 2, 2020 to plant irises in the last of the empty containers at the LICI's iris holding area. During four events held since June, over 4,500 irises were rescued from a tract of land located just outside of New Orleans that is zoned and permitted for commercial development and is for sale. 500 irises were donated by individuals that have taken irises from the swamp and planted them onto their property. An additional 1,000 irises were collected from sites where LICI has planted irises in the past to thin out for its projects. All of the irises are the species I. giganticaerulea of the Louisiana iris, which is the iris found growing in the fresh water swamps and marshes of southeast Louisiana.

The landowner of the property where the 4,500 were rescued has given LICI permission to remove the irises before the land is sold and developed. A portion of the property is leased to a company that sets up a fireworks stand twice a year. LICI was notified by the company that they were going to expand the parking area, so a concentrated effort was put on, starting in June, to get the irises out.

Photo: Wild I. giganticaerulea irises being dug up in late July during the last iris rescue event of the summer.

Construction of the LICI's iris holding area started in June, 2020 when irises were planted from the first iris rescue event held on June 12th.

Photo: The first irises being planted at the new LICI iris holding area on June 12, 2020.

The purpose of the iris holding area is to give irises that have been dug up as they begin their summer dormant period at chance to strengthening up for a few months before being transplanted during this fall and winter to their permanent homes in area refuges and nature preserves. Also, the irises growing in these containers will form clumps, which are better to plant in the semi-liquid muck found in many of the areas they will be going into instead of individually.

Photo: The last irises of the summer iris rescue project are seen being planted at the LICI iris holding area on August 2, 2020.

The irises should be ready to start being planted in the marsh by late October. If enough volunteers can be found, the hope is that 6,000 irises will be planted by early December so that more irises can be brought in to the iris holding area for planting out in the marshes in mid-January.


July 15, 2020 New Orleans, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) would like to express our sincere gratitude to these organizations for their donations that have allowed us to construct the LICI's iris holding area in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans:

Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges The Meraux Foundation The Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans

1) The Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, Inc. is made up of dedicated community members who magnify the power of conservation efforts and help the national wildlife refuges in Louisiana meet conservation goals that would otherwise be out of reach.

They do this by donating hundreds of volunteer hours and raising money for our local refuges. In the process, Friends help engage the people of the area in wildlife conservation, improve access to outdoor recreation and strengthen relationships between refuges and their neighboring communities.

Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, Inc.

Just like at many regional US Fish & Wildlife refuges across the country, local Friends of the Refuge members lead tours, staff refuge visitor centers, organize wildlife festivals, sponsor photo contests, operate nature shops and help organize habitat restoration and trail maintenance projects. Their annual October "Wild Things" festival brings in thousands of people to the event at the Lacombe, La Southeast Louisiana US Fish & Wildlife Service's headquarters complex.

2) The Meraux Foundation is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was established by Arlene Meraux to benefit the community of St. Bernard Parish by leveraging its landholdings.

From their website: "When Arlene Meraux founded the Meraux Foundation, she asked her niece, Rita Gue, to manage it with a simple guiding principle: to ensure that the land resources that Arlene transferred to the Foundation would be used to improve the quality of life in St. Bernard.

The Meraux Foundation

The Foundation's Docville Farm has over 130 acres designated as an educational learning center that hosts art series, workshops, and a number of community events, such as LSU’s AgMagic on the River. One of the many buildings on the Docuville Farm campus is a greenhouse that, in addition to raising plants, it serves as a learning resource for K-12 students throughout the year. It has become a highlight of AgMagic on the River, an annual event the Meraux Foundation hosts to link Louisiana’s agriculture and environment with people’s everyday lives.

“We continue to build out Docville Farm so that it can better meet the needs of the community. Beyond hosting events and providing space for community dialogue, the farm is a hub for positive growth — now both literally and figuratively!” says Gue.

"The foundation's Coastal and Environmental Initiatives range from outreach to schools in St. Bernard to prepare students for jobs in the growing field of coastal restoration to engaging stakeholders in efforts to protect the coast and respects the way of life in St. Bernard," Gue adds.

Blaise Pezold joined the Meraux Foundation a few years ago as Coastal and Environmental Program Manager to spearhead the nonprofit’s ever-expanding plans to protect, preserve, and restore St. Bernard Parish’s rapidly disappearing coast. He is LICI's contact person with the foundation.

3) The mission statement of the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans (NPI) is very straightforward; "To increase the use of native plants in our area by expanding public awareness of their ecological benefits, boosting availability, and by preserving and creating native plant communities." This is accomplished with educational efforts, including public plantings of wild flowers, the NPI's regularly held meetings and special seminars that they organize.

Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans

The NPI also join forces on projects with other groups that are working to preserve or restore native Louisiana plants. That's where the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative's work comes into play. One of the proposed projects is to reintroduce the native Louisiana iris species I. giganticaerulea to the swamp at the Lockport Elevated Wetlands Boardwalk in Lockport, LA.

bottom of page