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Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge Iris Planting

Updated: Jun 10

January 8, 2020 Lacombe, La.


On January 7, 2020 volunteers from Wisconsin University-Madison and the University of South Dakota helped us complete the 2019 fall/winter portion of the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge Louisiana iris relocation project. The workday for the twenty-two students was organized by Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) member Gary Salathe with Greater New Orleans Iris Society member George Wainright helping with supervision. The students were in town for five days of volunteerism organized by Britt Aliperti, Interim Director of Common Ground Relief, a local non-profit engaged in marsh restoration projects in southeast Louisiana. The Big Branch project could not have been completed without all of their help.

LICI would also like to thank Gary S. Vitrano, manager of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries fish hatchery, for allowing one of the ponds there to be used for these rescued irises to be planted in and then having them growing there through the fall and winter of 2019 until they were ready to be dug up. A "Big thank you!" goes out to Daniel Breaux, manager of the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, for his encouragement and support of this iris relocation project.


The irises that were used for the project started off growing on the road shoulder of Lake Road, which is a St. Tammany parish maintained road within the refuge.

St. Tammany parish has plans to raise the road level because it is regularly covered with water during higher than normal tides caused by a strong south wind blowing for a few days. Any irises, like those shown in the photo, within 30" of the gravel's edge will be destroyed when the construction for raising the road begins.


On a July 2, 2019 volunteer day the irises were dug up from Lake Road and brought to a small, dry fish pond that the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries made available at their fish hatchery in nearby Lacombe, La.

On January 7, 2020 the volunteers dug up the irises at the fish hatchery to relocate them to the boardwalk area of the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge a few miles away. Over the last two years multiple volunteer days have taken place to plant irises at the boardwalk. A severe drought in 2001 allowed salt water into the lagoons near the boardwalk which killed the last stand of cypress trees and any remnant irises that were growing there.


The opening of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal (MR-GO) in 1968 introduced huge amounts of salt water into Lake Pontchartrain causing the habitat around the lake to slowly changed from fresh water marsh to brackish or salt water marsh. The closing of the MR-GO in 2009 reversed the process and now the marshes are converting back to freshwater, allowing a return of cypress trees and irises.

Since visitors from around the world walk the refuge's boardwalk, the goal of the project was to move irises there from other areas of the refuge that are on the verge of being destroyed, like these irises from Lake Road. Over 1,000 iris were planted near the boardwalk by the end of the day. A video of this volunteer day can be found here: https://youtu.be/-QzuGXC3Bs0


This planting completed a two year project which successfully moved over 2,000 I. giganticaerula species Louisiana irises to the area of the boardwalk.

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The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative, Inc. is a Louisiana non-profit corporation that has been formed for the purpose of organizing Louisiana iris rescue and planting projects involving wild, native irises threatened with destruction.