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LICI Adds 2,500 irises to Their Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge Project

February 15, 2022 New Orleans, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) has completed their winter 2021-2022 Louisiana iris planting at the US Fish & Wildlife's Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans East. LICI estimates that 2,500 Louisiana irises were planted over the last three months by their local volunteers and volunteers from other organizations. "We had two challenges with our iris planting project at the refuge this year; The autumn dry season did not end until late December and we were planting irises simultaneously with our having a significant native tree planting project going on at the refuge," LICI's Gary Salathe says. Salathe was LICI's project manager for both projects.

Hurricane Ida's heavy rains flooded the iris area along the old Bayou Sauvage in the refuge. The photo on the left was taken a few weeks after Hurricane Ida. The photo on the right of the same area was taken in April of 2021, before Hurricane Ida.

The need for more irises to be planted was especially important this year because so many of irises that had been planted in previous years were killed off due to high water in the refuge this past summer. The New Orleans area received over 85" of rain in 2021, all of it before October, when the rains stopped. "We likely lost about 60% of the irises," Salathe says.

One stand of irises are shown in the photo above trying to grow in about 12" of water during the high water event at the refuge this past spring. Many of these same irises were submerged for long stretches of time after Hurricane Ida heavy rains passed through the area in late August.

The goal of LICI's multi-year iris restoration project at the refuge is to reestablish the fields of the I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris that grew there back in its history. This freshwater iris once grew in abundance at the refuge. The irises had been on decline in the refuge starting with Hurricane Betsy pushing salt water into the swamp. It was believed the last of the surviving irises were destroyed when Hurricane Katrina's salt water storm surge broke through the levees in New Orleans and flooded the refuge for weeks.

I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris are shown blooming in the Bayou Sauvage refuge during the first part of April in 2021. LICI has planted a few rare white versions of the I. giganticaerulea irises at the refuge, as shown in the photo.

The US Fish & Wildlife service embarked on a rehabilitation of the ridge forest after it was shown through soil tests ten years ago that the salt in the soil had broken down. Many volunteer groups have replanted native hardwood and cypress trees during the last ten years.

The Ridge Trail Boardwalk at the refuge passes through one of only two remaining live oak/hackberry ridge forests left in Louisiana. The remnants of Bayou Sauvage is in the center of the ridge forest. LICI's goal has been to first replant irises along the bayou and then spread out their plantings to other areas of the refuge in future years. "We planted a few hundred irises away from the bayou for the first time this year," Salathe said. The irises were planted on the north side of the boardwalk out in the cypress swamp.

Louisiana irises being planted along with cypress trees in January on the north side of the Ridge Trail Boardwalk at the Bayou Sauvage refuge. This is the first time that irises have been planted by LICI away from the old Bayou Sauvage location.

The irises planted at the Bayou Sauvage refuge came from LICI's iris rescue program. The group finds irises that are threatened with destruction and after getting permission from the landowner, digs them up and replants them within the protected habitats of area refuges or nature preserves after they acquire the necessary permits. Their goal is to increase the public's awareness of this Louisiana native plant with their iris plantings at public swamp boardwalks.

Volunteers from Common Ground Relief and LICI at an iris rescue event held by LICI.

The irises spend some time in containers filled with rich soil and water at LICI's iris holding area in New Orleans before going out to be planted in the fall and winter. "By strengthening up in these containers it increases their chances for survival in their new homes. It also allows us to rescue irises in late spring and early summer, which is not a good time to replant them into the wild," Salathe says.

LICI's iris holding area is shown on November 1, 2021 just before the first rescued irises went out for replanting into LICI's projects.

LICI began planting irises for the 2021-2022 winter planting season at the Bayou Sauvage refuge in December. Volunteers from AmeriCorps, Louisiana Master Naturalist of Greater New Orleans, GulfCorps/Limitless Vistas, Louisiana Master Naturalist of Greater New Orleans, Common Ground Relief's local volunteers, as well as, a group they hosted for a week of service activities from Saint Paul's Catholic Student Center at the University of Wisconsin - Madison and LICI's volunteers all helped out at some point over the last three months to get the rises planted. "We really, really appreciated all of the help we received from volunteers to get the job done this year," Salathe says.

AmeriCorps volunteers are shown planting Louisiana irises at the Bayou Sauvage refuge in December, 2021.

Common Ground Relief volunteers are shown planting Louisiana irises at the Bayou Sauvage refuge in December, 2021.

GulfCorps/Limitless Vistas volunteers are shown just after they completed planting a few hundred Louisiana irises at the Bayou Sauvage refuge in December, 2021.



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