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LICI Completes Winter 2022-2023 Iris Plantings at Bayou Sauvage National Urban Wildlife Refuge

February 1, 2023 New Orleans, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) completed their last winter 2022 - 2023 Louisiana iris planting at the Bayou Sauvage National Urban Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans when three volunteers planted 100 irises on January 30, 2023. Over 2,500 I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris were planted at the refuge by the group during a six-week period that started in late December.

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 the decline in the refuge, starting with Hurricane Betsy pushing salt water into the swamp. It was believed the last surviving irises were destroyed when Hurricane Katrina's saltwater storm surge broke through the levees in New Orleans and flooded the refuge for weeks.

Louisiana irises are shown blooming at the Bayou Sauvage refuge in LICI's iris restoration project in 2021. The iris plantings this year continued the multi-year project by LICI to reestablish the I. giganticaerula species of the Louisiana iris at the refuge.

The first iris planting of the season took place on December 19, 2022 when student volunteers from the University of South Dakota planted hundreds of Louisiana irises at the refuge. Common Ground Relief hosted the students as they did service activities in the New Orleans area.

University of South Dakota students are seen unloading Louisiana irises at the Bayou Sauvage National Urban Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans on December 19, 2022. The group also planted 30 bald cypress trees.

The irises used during the December 19th planting at the refuge came from LICI's iris holding area in New Orleans. The irises were rescued from various sites earlier in the year and were then planted into containers at the iris holding area to strengthen up before they were used in plantings like this one.

LICI held a late-season iris rescue in early January for a project where the irises were to be planted that same day. (During the winter iris growing season, irises can be transplanted without first spending time at the group's iris holding area.) The volunteers dug up over 1,500 Louisiana irises from a site where LICI is trying to remove all of the irises with the encouragement of the landowner because the property is for sale and zoned for commercial development. However, just days before the iris rescue event, the location where the irises were to be planted broke the news to LICI that their site would not be ready for the planting. A decision was made to get the irises out anyway and use them in existing LICI iris restoration projects. "We thought we were about finished planting irises for the season when this need arose to find a home for these 1,500 irises quickly," LICI's Gary Salathe said. "We had a tree planting volunteer event scheduled one week later at the Bayou Sauvage refuge with a huge number of volunteers, so we broke off a group to plant about 1,000 of these irises."

Volunteers from Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), organized the visit of forty 8th-grade and high school students from Houston for a tour of Jewish life and history in New Orleans, which included two half-days of service work. Common Ground Relief hosted the group for a LICI-organized iris rescue event on January 5th. In addition, a Boy Scout troop from Hammond, La came out to help as LICI volunteers. The event netted 1,500 irises in one morning's work.

Because of concerns that volunteer events scheduled for January 12th & 13th at the Bayou Sauvage refuge may be canceled due to poor weather, a small group of LICI volunteers planted over 500 irises at the refuge the day before the first event was to begin. However, the weather was good enough for the two day event to be held.

On January 12 & 13, 2023 student volunteers from Texas A & M University planted 900 bare-root seedlings, 135 one-gallon potted cypress trees, and 1,000 Louisiana irises. The event was co-hosted by Common Ground Relief and LICI. "It ended up working out well that we had the 1,500 irises available. Their impact will be seen in April when they bloom along with the irises already growing in the refuge near the boardwalk," Salathe says.

Some of the irises planted by the Texas A & M University students are shown near the display boardwalk at the Bayou Sauvage refuge.

LICI's volunteer Gayla Deblank (on far left) supervised a group of Texas A & M students as they planted Louisiana irises at the Bayou Sauvage refuge on January 12, 2023.

On January 30, 2023, volunteers with LICI's every Monday morning work group at the Bayou Sauvage refuge planted the last irises of the winter 2022 - 2023 planting season. These irises were some of the last ones ready to be planted this season at LICI's iris holding area.

LICI's volunteer Gayla Deblank is seen on January 30, 2023 planting the last iris of LICI's winter 2022 - 2023 iris planting season at the Bayou Sauvage refuge.

"We appreciate all of the help we received to make this winter's iris plantings at the Bayou Sauvage refuge a success. The results will be seen in April when the irises at this location bloom. It is going to be special, I predict," Salathe sums up.



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