April

 

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A view of the Cajun Prairie Gardens from the highway (HWY 91) toward our home. The foreground is covered in Coreopsis and Tradescantia while the background is mainly Baptisia.

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Gail immersed in a sea of Coreopsis and Baptisia along Highway 91 edge of the Cajun Prairie Gardens.

 

April brings height to the prairie as it reaches 2 feet and in some areas it reaches 3 feet—by May it will be 3 feet in general and reaching 4-5 in select species (the title page photograph by Marc Pastorek depicts M. Vidrine with several guests in the Cajun Prairie Gardens in April 2013).

April is the month of the splashes—Baptisia (Wild indigoes), Tradescantia (Spiderworts), Polytaenia (Prairie parsley) and Coreopsis (tickseeds) are on dry prairie and Iris spp. (Louisiana irises), Iris virginica (Blue flag), Cicuta (Water hemlock), Hymenocallis (Spiderlily) and Amsonia (Bluestar) are in the wet prairie. But these are simply the large and striking species. A previous essay on Louisiana Iris focuses on these magnificent plants.

April is the month when Easter is generally celebrated. The Wild indigoes were used to dye the eggs for pocking, thus the plants were often referred to Pock-Pock plants. Boiling eggs with their leaves resulted in a yellow egg. Early in the month, Baptisia sphaerocarpa and B. bracteata laevicaulis prevail, while in the later part of the month, B. alba prevails, this later species appears to prefer a wetter habitat than the others. Baptisia nuttalliana also occurs in the dry prairie and blooms in the mid-month—it is uncommon in the gardens. A northern blue flowering species (B. australis) can also be grown, but it is short-lived in my experience and not a species of the Cajun Prairie.

Cirsium horridulum (Bull thistle) blooms in lanes and disturbed prairies as a short-lived, fire-hating species. It is important as a host plant for the Painted lady butterfly and as an excellent nectar plant for pollinators, but it is indeed horrid in its aftermath as a spiny and rather unattractive weedy plant in its senescent stages. It can be abundant in lawns, as it was during the first couple of years in the Cajun Prairie Gardens, but it readily disappeared with the regimen of fire management. Several plants now appear along trails and in disturbed areas created by fire ants or crayfish or man. Its flowers are however a pure delight to gaze upon, and the stem and root are good sources of water on a hot spring day—avoid the thorns!

Asclepias viridis (Green antelopehorn milkweed) blooms near the end of the month. Monarchs arrive as early as March 13 in my records and begin laying eggs on emerging milkweeds—they incredibly find them when they are a mere inch in height. The eggs hatch a week or so later and the plant has grown to 6 inches and put out numerous leaves, which then serve as a vegetarian delight for the growing caterpillar. It will take the better part of 3 weeks for the caterpillar to grow and form a pupa and another 10 days to form a butterfly. Almost a month from egg to adult, but this is temperature dependent and of course food dependent. If the caterpillars run out of food, they leave the plant in search of new milkweeds—several reports of caterpillars eating other plants have occurred, and some of these caterpillars have completed their life cycle. More often than not, the caterpillars that leave the milkweeds encounter a dim outcome. Fortunately, the prairie gardens, at least the Cajun Prairie Gardens now has more than 200 milkweed plants growing in it. The Eunice project has only a mere dozen milkweed plants at present, in spite of an effort to transplant hundreds of plants during the early years of restoration.

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Physostegia intermedia.

Physostegia intermedia (Obedient plants; Slender false dragonheads) blooms from April to the end of May. By the end of June, P. digitalis (Obedient plants; finger false dragonheads) blooms, while late August to early October, P. virginiana spp. praemorsa (Obedient plants) bloom. This seasonality of species within a genus blooming is not uncommon. We see the same in Coreopsis, Rudbeckia, Baptisia, Helianthus, Monarda, Pycnanthemum, Liatris, and more species. At variance there are a number of species that rebloom several times during the year, e. g., many milkweeds, Hibiscus, etc. Other species simply have long blooming seasons, e. g., Gaura lindheimeri, Silphium gracile, Eryngium yuccifolium, Helianthus mollis, etc.

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Herbertia lahue.

Small Iris relatives, Sisyrinchium spp. (Blue-eyed grasses) and Herbertia lahue (Prairienymph) bloom along with the big irises; however, they prefer somewhat drier sites in the prairie. Whereas Sisyrinchium is abundant, Herbertia is relatively uncommon. Also prairie lilies, Hypoxis and Cooperia, bloom in drier areas than their cousin, Hymenocallis—an amaryllid. Wild onions(Allium) and Nothoscordum are also blooming profusely. These onions or garlics provide good smells and tastes to those wishing to bring them into the kitchen. Crinum americanum (Swamp lily)  blooms next month. Although several efforts were made to transplant species of the genus Aletris (Colicroots—both the yellow and white species), success eluded us.

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Iris virginica (on either side of the walk in the foreground) and a variety of Louisiana irises scattered about in the wet portions of the Cajun Prairie Gardens.

The mints are developing, but blooms are expected in May. Monarda and Pycnanthemum species provide grand smells and tastes to the prairie explorer. Avoid tasting other plants, especially Cicuta maculata (Water hemlock) in the prairie garden, although Black swallowtail caterpillars may be enjoying its leaves as well as those of Prairie parsley (Polytaenia nuttalliana).

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Calypogon oklahomensis in the Fenton Prairie remnant.

Calypogon oklahomensis (Bearded or Oklahoma grass pink orchid) blooms in late March to early April. The little orchid with a large flower is very rare and probably extirpated in the Cajun Prairie, where it was fairly common south of Fenton. Some of the original material from that site was sent to me by the author of the species. I planted these in my gardens, where they bloomed for several years and slowly disappeared one by one. A single plant bloomed in 2014, but it failed to reappear in 2015. Dr. Charles Allen reports this species as locally abundant at several sites in the Kisatchie National Forest and Fort Polk on slopes in contrast to its close relative and larger orchid, C. tuberosa (Grass pink orchid), which appears to prefer wet habitats. This big sister grass pink orchid blooms a little later in the bogs and savannahs of southwestern Louisiana, especially common at Fort Polk and in the Kisatchie National Forests to the northwest of the Cajun Prairie.

Whereas, the Texas Hill Country prairie gardens (think Bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, Winecups, etc.) are Spring-loaded (March-June) in their blooms and the Midwest prairie gardens (Iowa, Minnesota & Wisconsin) are Summer-loaded (late May- early September), the Cajun Prairie Gardens are loaded by month from early April to late October (in some years, late March to early November), and you can include the entire winter if you love big grasses! Here is an abbreviated list of significant plants (genera; note that one species may be blooming in one month and another in the next) are part of the blooming bursts of color:
April = Baptisia, Iris, Coreopsis, Tradescantia, Amsonia, Hymenocallis, Physostegia
May = Asclepias, Rudbeckia, Mimosa, Phlox, Monarda, Echinacea, Silphium, Callirhoe, Pycnanthemum, Baptisia
June = Hibiscus, Physostegia, Silphium, Pycnanthemum, Asclepias, Chamescrista, Tephrosia, Rudbeckia, Gaura
July = Eryngium, Hibiscus, Physostegia, Silphium, Coreopsis
August = Liatris, Arnoglossum, Silphium, Helianthus, Vernonia, Physostegia, Pycnanthemum, Rudbeckia, Asclepias
September = Liatris, Agalinis, Bidens, ‘Asters,’ Eupatorium, Physostegia, Vernonia
October = Solidago, ‘Asters’, Helianthus, Conoclinium

What plants were blooming in the Cajun Prairie Gardens on April 1, 2015?
1. Claytonia viriginica
2. Ranunculus spp.
3. Oxalis spp. (red and yellow flowered varieties)
4. Hypoxis hirsuta
5. Nothoscordum bivalve
6. Tradescantia spp.
7. Sisyrinchium spp.
8. Senecio glabella
9. Erigeron philadelphicus
10. Coreopsis spp.
11. Rubus spp.
12. Krigia dandelion
13. Salvia lyrata
14. *Baptisia spp. (the yellow flowered species)
15. *Scutellaria parva
16. *Hymenocallis liriosme
17. *Amsonia tabernaemontana
18. Houstonia (blue and white flowered varieties)
19. Vicia ludoviciana
20. Rumex crispa
21. Oenothera spp.
22. Cirsium horridulum
23. *Polytaenia nuttalliana
24. *Anemone caroliniana
25. *Viola sagittata
26. Lamium amplexicaulis
27. Sonchus sp.
28. *Silphium gracile

29. Valerianella radiata
30. *Iris virginica
31. *Iris spp. (Louisiana irises)

*first blooms apparent

If you want to learn how to identify plants and get into plant ecology:
Get a copy of Louisiana Wildflower Guide by Charles Allen, Kenneth Wilson and Harry Winters from Dr. Allen at http://www.nativeventures.net  or at native@camtel.net
or attend one of his PLANT IDENTIFICATION WORKSHOPS at Allen Acres.

 

As an additional reference, the plant photo section from The Cajun Prairie Restoration Journal (1995) is here provided as a downloadable document.

Plant Photos from 1995

Posted by M. F. Vidrine 012015 malcolmvidrine@yahoo.com

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