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A New LICI Iris Project in St. Tammany Parish

January 16, 2022

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) was contacted in August by Louisette Scott, Environmental Educator for Pelican Park Recreation District located in Mandeville, LA. about finding locations on their property to plant Louisiana irises. Part of Louisette's responsibilities is to manage and increase the number of native plants growing within the huge park.

Pelican Park is a tax payer supported park near Fontainebleau State Park and the Northlake Nature Center. It is 550 acres in size and consists of 32 athletic fields, a 3-court gym, a 4-court gym, the 46,000 square foot multi-purpose Castine Center, paved roads, walking trail, dog park, batting skate park, sand volleyball courts, 18 hole disc golf course and parking for over 1,700 vehicles.

In 2019 a grand opening was held of the $1.6 million dollar renovation of the old Green 5 baseball field that is now called The Groves. This newest addition to the Park has been designed for families. It includes eight outdoor lighted pickleball courts, outdoor fitness equipment, a boardwalk, picnic area, pond, green space and a family fun game area which consists of two horseshoe courts, two bocce courts and two shuffleboard courts.

Louisette Scott, Environmental Educator of Pelican Park is seen on the right and Margie Lewis, Executive Director of Pelican Park, is seen on the left during a meeting in October with LICI at the park to locate a suitable area for irises to be planted. The grassy rainwater detention area shown in the photo was selected as the best spot for irises to be planted.

LICI was also given permission to plant irises along the entire length of this rainwater detention area/drainage-way.

One of the key sites that LICI has been rescuing irises over the last two years is permitted for commercial development and is for sale. The owner has said he would give them thirty days to remove all of the irises if the property sells, but there are too many to take out in that short of a time period, so they have been working on getting them out over the last two years. Their plan is to relocate some of these irises to locations where they can safely grow for years and still be available to the group to thin out for future projects.

A December 15, 2021 LICI iris rescue is shown taking place on the key property that the group rescues wild native irises from. The owner of the property, which is zoned for commercial development and is for sale, is encourage LICI to remove all of the irises.

LICI currently has five locations where they plant rescued irises as a place for them to multiply on their own without any maintenance being needed. The landowners in each of the five locations have agreed that LICI will have access to the irises to thin out in future years to use on other iris restoration projects. "This gets the irises out of harm's way where they are currently growing in locations where they are threatened with destruction and "parks" them in a protected location where we can have future access to them. Its a win/win deal for all involved, is the way we see it", says Gary Salathe, a board of directors member of LICI and the lead for them on the Pelican Park project.

Louisette received the approval of the park's executive director, Margie Lewis, for LICI to have access in the future to any irises that they plant to thin them out as they multiply to use in other projects. Pelican Park will now be the sixth location that LICI has rescued irises "parked" to use in future iris restoration projects.

An aerial view of the 550 acre Pelican Park showing the iris planting site. The park is located just east of Mandeville, La.

"Over 1 million visitors per year use the park. On any given weekend day there could be as many as 12,000 people attending various organized sporting events", Margie Lewis said. The blooming irises will be in view to the public, which furthers LICI's goal of raising awareness of this native Louisiana plant.

The Pelican Park detention area is next to one of the larger soccer fields and its parking lot.

Due to an extended dry weather period, LICI delayed planting the irises at the Pelcian Park site until January 15, 2022 when rain was predicted for later that day. Volunteers from the public participated in the planting event. Over 400 Louisiana irises were planted in the grassy rainwater detention area.

The 400 Louisiana irises are shown being unloaded for the January 15th planting event at Pelican Park.

I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris from LICI's iris rescue program were used in the January 15th planting.

Some of the rescued irises are being brought out to their new home at Pelican Park on January 15th.

The irises were rescued this past summer and have been growing at the LICI iris holding area since then waiting for their turn to move to a permanent location.

The January 16th iris planting begins.

The annual maintenance plan for the detention area will mimic the conditions found on the tract of land where many of the irises that were planted were rescued from; Start cutting the grass in the bog where the irises are planted from the second week of July through the first of October. July 4th is the traditional time in Southeast Louisiana when the iris seed pods are ripe. Cutting the second week of July will allow the seeds to be spread around as the bog gets cut. Then cut the field all during the summer while the irises are dormant. Stop cutting the field at the beginning of October when the irises begin to come out of dormancy and start their winter growth period. The irises will grow undisturbed all winter and bloom sometime from mid March to mid April. After they bloom they will set their seed pods which will ripen the first week of July when the process can start all over again.

Margie Lewis, Executive Director of Pelican Park, second from left in photo, had her key maintenance crew members come out to see first hand where the irises were planted and to come up with a plan with LICI volunteer, Gary Salathe, third from left, on when the iris field should be cut each year. "We really appreciate the fact that Margie has asked us to work directly with the park's head of grounds maintenance over the coming year on their management of the iris bog, " Salathe said.

The combination of the seeds taking root and more iris plants being brought in by LICI next fall should allow the entire bog to be filled with irises from one end to the other within a few years.

Some of the volunteers overlook their work after the last iris was planted.



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