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Department of Louisiana State Parks Approves LICI's Iris Management Proposal

May 6, 2023 Mandeville, La.


The Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism's Louisiana State Parks has approved the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative's (LICI) proposal to manage and increase the number of I. nelsonii (Abbeville Red) Louisiana irises growing at the Palmetto Island State Park's boardwalk. The proposal was submitted to the park manager, Andrea Jones, three weeks ago. The department's naturalist approved LICI's proposal this week after reviewing the existing project and the future work to be done outlined in the proposal. LICI will now be a part of this important project to maintain and increase the number of I. nelsonii irises at the Palmetto Island State Park's boardwalk.

Photo: The boardwalk at Palmetto Island State Park where the I. nelsonii

species Louisiana iris planting is located.


The project began in 2011 as an idea proposed by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries and then implemented by the Friends of Palmetto Island State Park, Inc. to plant rare I. nelsonii irises at the boardwalk as a way for the public to see them growing and blooming in their natural habitat. The only place where they grow in the wild is a nearby privately owned swamp that is not open to the public. "We will do our best to continue the hard work that has been done by Friends of Palmetto State Park's volunteers through the years since to maintain the plantings," says Gary Salathe, president of LICI.

Photo: The Palmetto Island State Park boardwalk has numerous informational

displays about the I. nelsonii irises.

After receiving the state's approval to move forward on the project, Salathe went to the boardwalk on Wednesday, April 5th, to meet with Andrea and Jennifer Viator, Interpretive Ranger for the Department of State Parks. Also attending the meeting was a Bayou Teche region civic booster, Peter Patout, who had joined Gary for the day.

Photo: Park manager Andrea Jones and Jennifer Viator, Interpretive Ranger for the Department of State Parks, are seen on the boardwalk during their meeting with representatives of the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative on May 4, 2023.


Peter took the opportunity to discuss with Andrea and Jennifer a Louisiana iris festival he is helping to organize for 2025. One day of the educational festival would take place at the park's boardwalk and focus on the rare Abbeville Red irises as they bloom. Andrea gave her permission for the festival planning to move forward and agreed to reserve the meeting room at the entrance to the boardwalk for the 2025 event.


Gary got down in the swamp as Peter met with the two. He removed the remaining iris cultivars that had been discovered growing among the Abbeville Red Louisiana irises at the boardwalk a few years after the planting was created in 2011. He also cut off all of the seed pods from the Abbeville Red irises since they likely cross-pollinated with the cultivars during the iris bloom last month.

Photo: LICI's Gary Salathe is seen removing the seed pods from every iris within the swamp at the boardwalk on April 5, 2023. It is likely that all of the I. nelsonii irises cross-pollinated with Louisiana iris cultivars that were growing and blooming among them.


Photo: Light blue Louisiana iris cultivars blooming among the I. nelsonii irises on April 5, 2023 in the swamp at the Palmetto Island State Park boardwalk.


This is LICI's proposal to the State Park:

  • We will remove the last of the iris cultivars from the boardwalk area.

  • We will remove the seed pods from all of the irises in the boardwalk planting.

  • We will grow out 800 – 1,000 I. nelsonii irises at our iris holding area that are being donated by Kent Benton.

  • We will plant any of the irises donated by Kent Benton that have grown large enough into the boardwalk area this fall when the water level is low.

  • We will remove any questionable non-Abbeville Red irises during the 2024 spring bloom.

  • We will market the boardwalk irises as they bloom to attract the public's attention to help publicize these rare irises and the park’s role in preserving them.

  • We will thin out the irises in the future, when needed, for possible planting into the Abbeville Swamp.

  • We will welcome any group to partner with us that is willing to help with the work or donate funds to help offset the project's cost.

Photo: The I. nelsonii irises donated by Kent Benton will be grown in containers at the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative's iris holding area like these irises. The photo is from a volunteer iris planting event in January at LICI's iris holding area.

The iris seedlings are being donated to LICI by iris enthusiast Kent Benton of Livingston Parish. Kent has been very interested in the I. nelsonii species of the Louisiana iris for many years. A few years ago, he developed a way to propagate them from seeds using pollen collected from the Palmetto Island State Park's boardwalk irises with the then-manager's permission. He is a preservationist of this rare species of iris and is interested, along with others, in helping preserve their only native habitat; the nearby privately owned Abbeville Swamp.

Photo: LICI's volunteer, Kent Benton, is seen collecting pollen from a few of the I. nelsonii irises blooming at the Palmetto Island State Park on a March 23rd visit to the park with Gary Salathe to meet with representatives of the Friends of Palmetto Island State Park.

He received permission from the then-manager of the park

to produce more I. nelsonii seedlings for next year.


Gary was also met at the park's boardwalk on Thursday by a board member of the Friends of Palmetto Island State Park, Inc. non-profit. On behalf of the board, he invited Gary to speak at their May 30th board of directors meeting about a proposal LICI made to them last month to partner with them on the project by either directly being involved or helping with funding. Gary accepted the invitation.

Photo: I. nelsonii species of the Louisiana iris blooming in the swamp at the boardwalk in Palmetto Island State Park on April 5, 2023.


"We appreciate the encouragement and support we have received from the park's manager and other Department of State Parks staff members. It is always easier to come into a project after others have already done much work. We appreciate the hard work that has gone into this project to get it started in 2011 by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries and the Friends of the Palmetto Island State Park and the work that members of the Friends group have done since then to try and maintain it. We are looking forward to doing our part to continue their work," Salathe said.

Photo: (left to right) Jennifer Viator, Interpretive Ranger for the Department of State Parks, Andrea Jones, park manager, and LICI's Gary Salathe, at the end of their meeting

at the park's boardwalk on April 5, 2023.


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