Louisiana Native Plant Society

Prairie dogs 020616 at Louisiana Native Plant Society

From left to right: Marc Pastorek, Charles Allen, Peter Loos, Jim Foret, Malcolm Vidrine and Larry Allain. Photo sent to me by Marc Pastorek. February 6, 2016.

At the Winter meeting last weekend, Marc Pastorek organized a prairie day. The Cajun Prairie was in focus as the old gang of prairie restorationists were gathered to speak and discuss prairies with the native plant enthusiasts from around the state. In the absence of Bill Fontenot, Jim Foret joined our gang for the group photo. We attempted to recreate the photo in the Cajun Prairie book taken by Tom Hillman in 2000.

Here is the powerpoint presentation of my talk at the meeting.

6prairie landscaping – prairie ecology for the LNPS meeting, Feb 5-7th

 

Posted by Malcolm Vidrine 021116 (malcolmvidrine@yahoo.com)

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July

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Early July in the Cajun Prairie Gardens. The pink blooms are Obedient plant.

 

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The first blooms of Compass plant appear.

 

July is a prairie that is 6 feet tall in many places. For the first week of the month, Physostegia and Hibiscus are in elegant bloom. Several species begin reaching for 7-8 feet and will probably achieve 9-10 feet by the end of the season.  The weather is now hot and humid, and the prairie becomes unpleasant during the heat of the day; however, the prairie remains beautiful. In the gardens, the number of butterflies begins increasing and continues to do so until October. July begins looking like June and ends looking like August—mid-July appears with somewhat of a lull in activity in blooming as the transition occurs from fantastic views of Obedient plants in dry prairie to masses of sunflowers, and the wet prairie’s Crimson-eyed rosemallows wane and are replaced by short bloomers hidden among the rosemallows’ debris.

1987 first picutre july estherwood

Dr. Charles Allen in Midland prairie remnant in July 1987. Compass plants bend over in the foreground, while Ovateleaf Indian plantains and Dense blazing stars dot the background.

 

Silphium laciniatum (Compass plant) is a very special plant for several reasons. One, it has a huge tap root, up to 15 feet in length based on reports from the Midwest; 2, it has these remarkable laciniate leaves that turn their broad side to the sun and point their edges north and south, thus giving rise to its name, Compass plant; 3, it begins blooming as July opens—a week earlier in some cases, you will see a single flower open. This latter item connects the great prairies of the Midwest with those of the south, in that this plant also blooms on or around July 1st in Iowa and Minnesota. When you examine the bloom seasons of these prairies, it is obvious that the northern prairies bloom for 5-6 months while the southern prairies bloom for 9-10 months. The northern prairies have their blooming plants bunched up, while the southern prairie has several bloom flushes followed by lulls. In our Cajun Prairie, plants start blooming in early March and end in early November, whereas in the Midwest, blooms appear in May and end in September. When you compare genera (and some species) of specific plants, a distinct pattern is observed, e. g., Monarda fistulosa (Bergamont beebalm) blooms in June and July in the Midwest and in April to June in the Cajun Prairie. Thus you can see that the times are offset, but on July 1, the prairies of the Midwest and the South appear to align for a few weeks and enter a synchronicity, which is best evidenced by the Compass plant’s blooming. Why does this happen? In ecology, we learn that every part of the globe receives roughly the same amount of sunlight on a yearly budget, but the equator get 12 hours a day all year long, while Louisiana gets 12 hours a day only in March and September (equinoxes), but Louisiana gets 10 hours a day in December and 14 hours a day in June. In the upper Midwest, these numbers begin to show extremes, with 8 hours a day in December and 16 hours a day in June, and by the time, you get to Alaska and Canada, you are talking about 2-4 hours or less in December and 20-22 or more in June. In the end, a simple equation appears and relates plant growth and internal signaling for flowering based upon day length such that our Compass plants mature and bloom after receiving a half of a year of the daylight budget; other plants mature and bloom when varied units of the budget are used giving us short-day bloomers and long-day bloomers. Thus the prairie phenology of flowering is tied not only to time but also to seasons, aka latitudes. Thus no 2 prairies are identical in the phenologies. And any other features in the prairie, from hillsides to shade from rocks, etc., can alter bloom times. And of course, any insult, burning or mowing, can highly change the bloom times by restarting clocks and sending new chemical signals throughout the plants.

 

vernonia texana lacon89

Vernonia texana (Texas ironweed) is an early blooming ironweed in the Cajun Prairie. It is smaller and less showy but similar to the late blooming Vernonia gigantea (Giant ironweed).

 

 

Spring and early summer sunflowers (Cirsium, many Coreopsis, Echinacea, Senecio, Krigia, many Rudbeckia, etc.) complete their blooming. July begins a fantastic season of sunflowers, the Asteraceae or Compositae.  Many new genera of sunflowers bloom, not only the typical sunflowers (Helianthus, ‘Aster,’ Silphium, Bidens, Rudbeckia, Chrysopsis, Pityopsis, Boltonia, Gaillardia, Coreopsis, etc.) but also the atypical sunflowers (Liatris, Vernonia, Conclinium, Arnoglossum (Cacalia), Eupatorium, Euthamia, Pluchea, Mikania, Solidago, Oligoneuron, etc.). For the next 5 months, these sunflowers rule the prairie floralscape.

By the middle of the month, Arnoglossum (Cacalia), Coreopsis tripteris (Tall tickseed), Rudbeckia subtomentosa (Sweet black-eyed susan) and Liatris begin blooming. Silphium laciniatum becomes the significant sunflower, but its shorter relative, Helianthus mollis (Ashy sunflower), begins to make a show. Silphium gracile continues to bloom—it blooms from April to November, and it will rebloom if mowed.

liatris squarrosa

Liatris squarrosa (Button blazing star).

 

July begins the season of blooming blazing stars—the Liatris. Liatris contains many species of truly elegant sunflower species that bloom in linear spikes from the apical tip down to mid-spike or lower over a few weeks. The species in the Cajun Prairie bloom from early July to early October. By far the most abundant species in the Cajun Prairie were L. spicata (Dense blazing star) in the southern prairies and L. pycnostachya (Prairie blazing star or Kansas gayfeather) in the western prairies. Dense blazing stars from the Midland remnant prairie photograph either blue or red depending on the lighting, and some are white as in the center of these two pictures.

Less common, Liatris acidota (Slender blazing star) and L. squarrosa (Button blazing star) start blooming during the early part of the month and continue to bloom until late September. These bloom for a much longer period than the other species. Dense blazing star blooms mostly in July and August, whereas Prairie blazing star blooms from late August to early October, and L. elegans (Pinkscale blazing star) blooms from late September into October.

Overlap in their blooms is evident, and hybrids of Liatris may exist, but that is far beyond our focus. Occasional albino (white) flowering plants are found in the Cajun Prairie. The flowers of all the species are generally pink to purple, but they may appear blue or red on photographic film at different times of the day. My eyes were often forced to take a double take to confirm the color. These plants are also a major group in the florist palette and are commonly found in arrangements. They dry beautifully when stored upside-down. The plants are easily started from seed, but they like disturbed soils for that first start. They live for decades, and they can be really impressive in numbers and size. There are approximately 50,000 plants, mostly Liatris pycnostachya, in the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project in Eunice. For 3 months, from mid-July to mid-October, you are sure to see at least one species in bloom—which one(s) will tell you not only which month you are in but also maybe which week. Charles Allen once hailed these blazing stars as the most common wildflowers in Louisiana. I remain totally impressed by them.

 

aug 87 fenton

Mid-July 1987, Midland prairie remnant contains lots of Rattlesnake master and Ovateleaf Indian plantain.

 

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Rattlesnake master (white) with Partridge pea (Chaemescrista fasciculata).

 

Eryngium yuccifolium (Rattlesnake master or Button snakeroot or Button eryngyo) blooms in dry prairie, and Hydrolea ovata (Blue waterleaf) blooms in wet prairie. Rattlesnake master, a member of the carrot family, attracts pollinators by the hundreds of species and spreads as the prairie soils mature. Its prickly clusters of white flowers are unmistakable as is its yucca-like rosette of leaves. This plant is a great indicator of prairies. Blue waterleaf is a striking blue beauty (sometimes light blue or white) with bonafide stickers—it spreads well in wet areas and will literally put on a great show of color.

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Blue waterleaf.

 

Tall tickseeds and Sweet black-eyed susans represent 2 groups of sunflowers that were very common in Spring. Just when it appears that we have lost all blooms of the tickseeds and black-eyed susans (only stragglers remain unless someone has mowed or burned), these 2 late bloomers surprise us with an explosion of blooms. Whereas Tall tickseeds reach 8 or more feet in height, the Sweet black-eyed susans are roughly 4-5 feet tall. Both put on a tremendous show. Both are easily propagated from stem cuttings.

 

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Ovateleaf Indian plantain.

 

 

jul88 wkindersav

Asclepias lanceolata (Fewflower milkweed) surrounded by Ovateleaf Indian plantain in remnant prairie.

 

 

Arnoglossum (Cacalia) ovatum (Ovateleaf Indian plantain) can form large clusters of white flowers. In the remnant prairies south of Interstate 10, it often was companioned by Dense blazingstar, where they formed fields of white and blue-purple blooms at the end of month.

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Passionvine.

 

Passiflora incarnata (Passionvine), the host for Gulf fritillary butterflies, is blooming its famous ‘Crucifixion flowers’ with their elegant frills and details, which open late in the afternoon. Some years, caterpillars are abundant and literally eat all of the leaves. The fruit are tasty when ripe, and seeds planted with the tasty pulp germinate within days of planting. This plant really likes compost, where it will grow with a vengeance and provide the backbone for a prairie garden of butterflies. The Gulf fritillary was the most common butterfly in my butterfly surveys of the Cajun Prairie—probably because the Passionvine was spread by birds and commonly found its way into available roadsides and pastures and any abandoned field with suitable soil—suitable soil is becoming rare as is this plant in some areas.

As July ends, the big grasses begin reaching for the sky. In prairies with lots of the big grasses, Big bluestem, Switchgrass, etc., the grasses will begin to overwhelm our view—this is certainly true in the Cajun Prairie Gardens. Whereas in the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project in Eunice, the emphasis is on Little bluestem and shorter grasses, and thus it has a greater meadow quality with many more obvious blooming forbs. Gardens vary greatly based upon not only the grasses but also the forbs that they contain. Native prairie was a grand mix of all these features, and it spread over millions of acres.

 

aug 91 west midland

By month’s end, Midland prairie remnants were full of sunflowers, Ovateleaf Indian plantain (white) and Dense blazing star (pink)

 

What was blooming in the Cajun Prairie Gardens on July 1, 2015?

  1. *Silphium laciniatum
  2. Silphium gracile
  3. Asclepias tuberosa
  4. Asclepias perennis
  5. Asclepias lanceolata
  6. Gaura lindheimeri
  7. Callirhoe papaver
  8. Asclepias viridis
  9. Rudbeckia hirta
  10. Rudbeckia grandiflora
  11. Coreopsis tinctoria
  12. Mimosa hystricina
  13. Crinum americanum
  14. Ludwigia sp.
  15. Ruellia spp.
  16. Euphorbia corallata
  17. Conoclinium coelestinum
  18. Tephrosia onobrychoides
  19. Monarda fistulosa
  20. Monarda lindheimeri
  21. Rudbeckia hirta
  22. Rudbeckia grandifolia
  23. Asclepias verticillata
  24. Sabatia spp.
  25. Hypericum spp.
  26. Thalea dealbata
  27. Eryngium yuccifolium
  28. Physostegia digitalis
  29. Hibiscus moscheutos lasiocarpus
  30. Kosteletskia virginica
  31. Hibiscus coccinea
  32. Ipomoea sagittata
  33. Chamescrista fasciculata
  34. *Passiflora incarnata
  35. Canna spp.
  36. *Coreopsis tripteris
  37. *Helianthus mollis
  38. *Liatris acidota
  39. *Manfreda virginica
  40. *Salvia azurea
  41. *Hydrolea ovata
  42. Pycnanthemum tenuifolium
  43. Pycnanthemum muticum
  44. Rhexia mariana
  45. Lythrum lineare
  46. Cephalanthus occidentalis
  47. Galactea volubilis
  48. Gaillardia aestivalis
  49. Lippia sp.   

*first blooms apparent

Posted by M. F. Vidrine 021016 (malcolmvidrine@yahoo.com)

June

Hibiscus pic

Hibiscus moscheutos var. lasiocarpos (Crimson-eyed rosemallow) in the wet Cajun Prairie Gardens.

 

2jul 2013

Physostegia digitalis (Finger false dragonhead or Obedient plants) at the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project in Eunice.

 

jun 81 jeff davis roadside

Finger false-dragonhead along a roadside.

June is a 4 to 5 foot tall prairie with some areas reaching 6 feet. June begins as an extension of the May blooms, and it takes a week or so to take on its own personality. Hibiscus explodes in the wet prairie. Extraordinary blooms of 5-6 inches and varying from red to white. Two species, Texas star (Hibiscus coccinea) and our common species, Crimson-eyed rosemallows (Hibiscus moscheutos lasiocarpus), occur in the prairie ecosystem. Kosteletskya virginiana (Seashore mallow) blooms in mid-June and sporadically until September—it is a marsh plant and uncommon in prairie wet areas; however, it is a great garden plant. Texas star and Seashore mallow in my garden are from a backwater of the Calcasieu River near Westlake, LA, where Avery Williams guided me to a beautiful marshy area, where not only these flourished but also a huge population of Physostegia intermedia—the Spring-bloomer. Physostegia digitalis blooms in the dry prairie and creates a beautiful show in June and early July.

Mid-month is the beginning of the blooming of Physostegia digitalis (Finger false dragonhead or Obedient plant). This extraordinary bloomer is unmistakable. As the most common of the summer-blooming Obedient plants (there are 3 others that bloom in the summer), an estimated 5000 plants bloom in the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project in Eunice, with maximum bloom around the 1st of July. Nearly a hundred plants are found in the Cajun Prairie Gardens. This particular Obedient plant prefers drier areas, while others prefer wetter sites.

The Hibiscus and Physostegia make such a great show in June that it is worthwhile to examine more closely their blooming regimen in a table. Both maximize their bloom at the end of June and the beginning of July, marking mid-year in the garden.

Table 1. Blooming of Hibiscus moscheutos lasiocarpus (in the wet prairie) and Physostegia digitalis (in the dry prairie) for the year 2015 in the Cajun Prairie Gardens as a percent head count of number of plants flower on a particular day. There are about 500 Hibiscus and 100 Physostegia in the gardens. Note that sporadic blooms occur on plants during the rest of July, with some Hibiscus reblooming in September (especially if cut back after blooming).

Day (2015) Hibiscus Physostegia
7-Jun 2% 0%
9-Jun 5 0
11-Jun 20 2
16-Jun 50 10
18-Jun 75 20
21-Jun 95 50
25-Jun 100 70
30-Jun 70 90
1-Jul 60 60
6-Jul 20 30
8-Jul 10 20
15-Jul 5 5
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Ipomoea sagittata (Saltmarsh morning-glory).

The wet marsh also is home to Ipomoea sagittata (Saltmarsh morning-glory) with violet flowers and Ludwigia spp. with bright yellow flowers, both spreading vigorously and vining among the Hibiscus. These plants will bloom until September.

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Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (Narrowleaf mountainmint) in the Cajun Prairie Gardens.

 

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Pycnanthemum muticum (White-clustered mountainmint).

The mints, Pycnanthemum muticum and P. tenuifolium (Mountain mints) companion the last of the blooming Monarda lindheimeri and M. fistulosa (Bee balms) to add to the blooms of the Physostegia. The mints generally prefer drier prairie sites, but they are not as picky as the later blooming species, P. albescens and M. punctata. All of these mints smell great and taste good or they taste like medicine. Crushing leaves and smelling them is a gret past-time, but during June, the blooms add significant white to the color spectrum in the dry prairie. The later blooming species are more yellow in color and make themselves noticeable in August.

jun 2013

Monarda spp. (Bee balms) and Rudbeckia grandiflora (Rough coneflower) in the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project in Eunice.

The peas, Tephrosia (Hoarypeas) and Chamaescrista (aka Cassia) (Partridge peas), bloom massively. Black-eyed susans, Rudbeckia hirta and R. grandifolia, maximize their blooms. Gaura lindheimeri (Lindheimer’s beebalm) reaches max bloom, but continues to bloom into the autumn. These all inhabit the drier areas.

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Crinum americanum (American swamp lily).

Crinum americanum (American swamp lily) and Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush) bloom. Other plants that like wet areas, including Thalea dealbata (Powdery thalia) and Canna spp., also bloom. The vining Saltmarsh morning-glory (Ipomoea sagittata) springles purple blooms among the Hibiscus.

 

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Groups of Silphium gracile (Slender rosinweed) dot the prairie gardens.

Silphium gracile (Rosinweed) provides maximum bloom, while S. laciniatum (Compass plant) begins to shoot up to 6-8 feet and readies to begin blooming near the end of the month.

Pnivea

Plantanthera nivea.

Mid-June is the onset of bloom for Platanthera nivea (Snowy orchid). Whereas this orchid blooms profusely in savannahs of western Louisiana, it is rare in the Cajun Prairie. I found and photographed a single specimen in bloom just north of the intersection of Hwy 165 and Interstate 10 along a Jefferson Davis Parish railroad right-of-way remnant prairie seepage area. Like many of the orchids, one walks right over them all year long as they typically have grass-like leaves that blend into the maze of grasses. Only when the blooms appear are the plants obvious, and in this case a really obvious bright white spire of blooms.

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Coreopsis tripteris (Tall tickseed) shoots to 6 going on 7 feet.

Coreopsis tripteris, a true giant tickseed, reaches 6-8 feet in height and readies for blooming. Asclepias lanceolata (the prairie’s red milkweed that loves wetter areas) and other milkweeds continue blooming. Eryngium yuccifolium (Rattlesnake master) prepares for a magnificent show in July.

 

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A view of the South Fenton remnant prairie in June of 1988. The large circles of grasses in the background are mostly Big Bluestem, while the foreground is dotted with blooms of Rough coneflower.

 

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The bright pink Crimson-eyed rosemallow is called Cajun Prairie Twilight by Marc Pastorek.

 

What was blooming in the Cajun Prairie Gardens on June 1, 2015?

  • Tradescantia spp.
  • Scutellaria integrifolia
  • Silphium gracile
  • Asclepias tuberosa
  • Asclepias perennis
  • Asclepias lanceolata
  • Gaura lindheimeri
  • Callirhoe papaver
  • Orbexilum psoralioides
  • Asclepias viridis
  • Phlox pilosa
  • Allium canadense
  • Echinacea pallida
  • Rudbeckia hirta
  • Coreopsis tinctoria
  • Mimosa hystricina
  • Crinum americanum
  • Ludwigia sp.
  • Ruellia spp.
  • Euphorbia corallata
  • Conoclinium coelestinum
  • Tephrosia onabrychoides
  • Monarda fistulosa
  • Monarda lindheimeri
  • Rudbeckia texana
  • Rudbeckia grandifolia
  • Asclepias verticillata
  • Spiranthes spp.
  • Sabatia spp.
  • Hypericum spp.
  • Thalea dealbata
  • *Hibiscus moscheutos lasiocarpus
  • Ipomoea sagittata
  • Canna spp.
  • Rhexia mariana
  • Lythrum lineare
  • Cephalanthus occidentalis
  • Galactea volubilis
  • Erythrina herbacea
  • Gaillardia aestivalis
  • Helenium spp.
  • Verbena halei
  • Lippia sp.

*first blooms apparent.

 

Posted by M. F. Vidrine 020316 (malcolmvidrine@yahoo.com)

May

 

 

callirhoe

Callirhoe papaver (Winecup).

 

 

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Mimosa hystricini (Sensitive briar)

 

may91 welsh

Rudbeckia texana (Texas brown-eyed susan) in the Welsh remnant Prairie in 1990.

 

May is a transitional month in the prairie, but it is a great month for sunflowers and milkweeds and many other species. The last of the Louisiana irises bloom—the short and zig-zag stemmed Iris brevicaulis. May presents a 3 feet tall prairie in general and reaching 4-5 in select species. Some meadow scenes are roughly 2 feet in height and provide some of the most striking view—such a section should be provided in any prairie garden not only for the sake of your eyes and emotions but also in order to provide a habitat that many of these shorter plants can be maintained—this area can be mowed after the major blooming (mid-June to early-July) and a reasonable amount of re-blooming may result in a second splash.

May also provides many views from the recent April blooms and some from the upcoming June explosion of blooms—this is why I call it a transitional month. At first view, May appears to have far fewer blooming plants, but this is a result of the loss of large, spectacular bloomers followed by their replacement with many small bloomers including Phlox, Callirhoe, Echinacea, etc. Taller plants from the April blooms often hide the smaller bloomers from view and reduce the overall effect. Thus growing a meadow without the large Baptisia and other plants of April will provide for a view of these beautiful prairie gems.

Creating a meadow is one of the best ways to get into the prairie. Here is an excellent example of a May meadow using 20 species of prairie plants in an area that can be mowed in mid-June with some good rebloom, and maybe another mow in mid-August for another small rebloom. The list contains showy flowering plants that are generally easy to grow after seeding or transplanting; however, they are not commonly regarded as hosts for butterfly larvae and serve mainly as nectar plants for pollinators. The exception is the milkweeds, but Monarch larvae are usually absent from our area in June, July and August, when mowing is suggested—a patient search might be useful just in case there is a straggler!

 

may90 fenton prairie

A view of a meadow remnant prairie south of Fenton in May 1990. Clumps of Rudbeckia hirta (yellow midground = Black-eyed susans), Callirhoe papaver (red foreground = Winecups), Mimosa hystricini (pink background = Sensitive briar) and Echinacea pallida (pink background = Pale purple coneflowers) are apparent.

 

A list of 20 dry feet meadow choices to make a May ‘knock your eyes out view’ follows:

  1. Phlox pilosa
  2. Callirhoe papaver
  3. Schrankia (now Mimosa hystricina)
  4. Echinacea pallida
  5. Erythrina herbacea
  6. Silphium gracile
  7. Rudbeckia hirta, grandiflora and texana
  8. Gaura lindheimeri
  9. Monarda fistulosa and lindheimeri
  10. Tephrosia onybrachiodes
  11. Butterflyweed and other milkweeds
  12. Ruellia spp.
  13. Prunella vulgaris
  14. Erigeron strigosus and annuus
  15. Tradescantia spp.
  16. Conoclinium coelestinum
  17. Gaillardia aestivalis
  18. Stachys floridana (considered too aggressive by Charles Allen and others)
  19. Euphorbia corallata
  20. Penstamon digitalis

 

Phlox, Callirhoe, Mimosa and Echinacea collected together make a great show. Add black-eyed susans and beebalms, and the view is as gardenesque/meadowesque as it gets. Add Mamou and Butterflyweed and you have a knock-your-eyes-out view. Unfortunately Coreopsis and many Tradescantia are generally finishing. A few Coreopsis tinctoria may bloom, but these annuals tend to disappear. Silphium gracile, although a bit taller but airy, can make a great contribution to the view. Tephrosia onybrychoides (Multibloom hoarypea) and Gaura lindheimeri (Lindheimer’s beeblossum) also bloom profusely. Cassia and Passiflora may be added as they are wonderful butterfly host plants—but cutting these down at midseason would be detrimental to the varied sulphur butterfly caterpillars and Gulf Fritillary caterpillars feasting on them.

Adding Lantana to this garden would also provide addition bang for your bucks. Arguments regarding whether the various kinds are native or exotic have not been settled. They do not appear to be common in the wild, but they are here and there. They were not found on the prairie remnants, but I have seen them in roadside areas along with natives; thus they are naturalized exotics at worst and possibly natives at best. I grow them with stem cutting taken in winter and simply inserted into the soil—I am always surprised to see them take root and grow.

Prunella vulgaris (Heal-all) and Scutellaria integrifolia (Helmet flower or skullcap) may be excellent additions. They are striking and blue to purple flowering, low growing plants. They are absolutely beautiful and rival the bluebonnets of Texas in both color and length of bloom season, but I have never seen them in nearly the numbers evidenced by the countless pictures of bluebonnets. They bloom briefly between in April to May.

Chamescrista fasciculata (aka Cassia and known as Partridge Pea) and Tephrosia are peas with characteristic blooms, but Chamescrista is an annual with bright yellow flowers, and Tephrosia is a perennial with white flowers that turn pink and then red during the 3 days that each bloom survives. These can become abundant and persist; Cassia is able to persist in the garden for years—not a common feat for annuals in the prairie—a habitat where perennials tend to crowd out the annuals. These will bloom for the next 5 months, if they have an opportunity in their location.

IMG_2440

Spiranthes sp. (Ladies tresses or Corkscrew orchid)

 

Spiranthes blooms. Orchids always receive attention—not only the most varied group of flowering plants in the world but also the most striking. The orchids occur in most kinds of habitats and achieve an intimate relationship with specific insects and fungi. Ladies tresses are among the most weedy of the orchids, but I would not want them thought of as weeds—they are native and highly sought after by pollinators. They are striking in their morphology and never cease to tease you into thinking there must be a dozen kinds as the number of twists and turns in the spiral orchids are bedeviling. Transplanting any of the orchids is literally an attempt to achieve a sense of deep depression and event-driven loss of common sense.

Sunflowers, including many coneflowers, black-eyed susans, rosinweeds, coreopsis, krigia dandelions, fleabanes and more, are blooming.

The mints, Monarda (beebalms) and Pycnanthemum (mountain mints), make a great show in May. They are very aromatic and tasty—a pleasure to other senses in the midst of all this visual beauty. The flowers are white to pink—2 species of each genus bloom in May(M. lindheimeri and M. fistulosa and P. muticum and P. tenuifolium), but another species in each genus will bloom in August and September. The latter blooms of August are P. albescens and M. punctata. The smells vary from camphor-like to peppermint to spearmint and other minty smells companioned with tastes. These plants contain essential oils that are toxic to many bacteria, and as such are considered medicinal plants. While some remind me of medicine, others have very pleasant smells and tastes. Other tasty plants include the Sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora) with a distinctively licorice taste and smell—it blooms in August.

The milkweeds are my joy in May—they bloom as though there is no tomorrow. An essay on milkweeds was blogged earlier.

may 90 north kinder helenium

A wet marsh south of Kinder with Helenium drummondii (Fringed sneezeweed) in the 1980s.

 

Helenium drummondii (Fringed sneezeweed) blooms in profusion in wet areas in the remnant prairie, but it has never been well-established in our gardens. Other plants that enjoy wet prairie include Physostegia intermedia and Pontedaria cordata—both remain in the garden, but they are not flourishing. Lots of other plants, including the candyroots and several carnivorous plants, are common in the prairies, but have not established in the gardens.

By the end of May, few pollinators remain. The causes may be many, but I suspect that the overhead activity of cropdusting airplanes and their drifting insecticides and herbicides are among the major causes for this drastic decline. As a result, few seeds are produced—most notable to me when examining the milkweeds. By summer’s end, the pollinators have returned.

May includes Mother’s Day, with the peak bloom of daylilies and gladiolas in the conventional southern garden. In the Cajun Prairie Gardens, I have used daylilies (Hemerocallis) as accent plants in some of these meadows—exotic plants are not generally recommended. Daylilies bloom from April to July in the Cajun Prairie Gardens. Unlike the Midwest, where daylilies have become somewhat weedy and escaped, in Louisiana, these plants appear to not be an escapee problem. Because the plants are beautiful, edible and highly useful to the gardener, I choose to use these plants. The plants respond well to mowing in summer and burning in winter. Their varieties are nearly inexhaustible, both in form and color. Also on the non-prairie view, May provides an explosion of zinnias and cosmos for my and my butterfly’s pleasures—these pleasures extend into September and further if weather permits.

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Erythrina herbacea (Mamou).

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The native herb Mamou in all of its glorious bloom. This hummingbird-pollinated, medicinal plant has a root system like a tree and is more commonly found in the edges of the gallery forests and prairie, but it is a great grower in the Cajun Prairie Gardens. The plant is celebrated in a book by Bill Reese and Charles Allen. The chemical in its seed and roots is a blood thinner, which my Mom used in a syrup to act as an expectorant and phlegm-buster–now considered too dangerous to use. Photo requested by Terry Erwin.

 

 

The month ends with the first blooms of Hibiscus moscheutos var. lasiocarpos (Crimsoneyed rose-mallow)—a plant that takes over the view in the Louisiana Iris marsh during June and July. Ipomoea sagittata (Salt marsh morning-glory)—a beautiful blue-purple-flowered vine grows among the Hibiscus. Masses of Ludwigia spp. (Water primroses) grow and bloom bright yellow open blooms beneath the Hibiscus and the morning-glories.

Hibiscus pic

A preview of the marsh in the Cajun Prairie Gardens in June. More than a thousand Hibiscus bloom. The yellow flowers in the foreground are Ludwigia sp.

 

What was blooming in the Cajun Prairie Gardens on May 1, 2015?

  1. Tradescantia spp.
  2. Scutellaria integrifolia
  3. Silphium gracile
  4. *Iris brevicaulis. (Louisiana Iris)
  5. *Asclepias tuberosa
  6. *Asclepias perennis
  7. *Asclepias lanceolata
  8. Gaura lindheimeri
  9. Callirhoe papaver
  10. Baptisia alba
  11. Orbexilum psoraliodes
  12. Orbexilum simplex
  13. Baptisia sphaerocarpa
  14. Physostegia intermedia
  15. Asclepias viridis
  16. *Phlox pilosa
  17. *Allium mobilense
  18. *Allium canadense
  19. *Erythrina herbacea
  20. Stachys floridana
  21. Sisyrinchium (red flowers)
  22. *Echinacea pallida
  23. *Rudbeckia hirta
  24. *Prunella vulgaris
  25. *Cicuta maculata
  26. Coreopsis lanceolata
  27. *Mimosa hystricina
  28. *Crinum americanum
  29. *Ludwigia sp.
  30. *Ruellia spp.
  31. Oenothera speciosa
  32. Polytaenia nuttallii
  33. Lobelia appendiculata
  34. Euphorbia corallata
  35. Buchnera floridana
  36. Erigeron strigosus
  37. Erigeron annuus
  38. Herbertia lahue
  39. Penstamon spp.
  40. Pycnanthemum tenuifolium
  41. Pycnanthemum muticum

*first bloom apparent.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gl5wzHjzvMk WOW! Great video. Thanks to Larry Allain for passing it along to me!

Posted by M. F. Vidrine 012716 (malcolmvidrine@yahoo.com)

 

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

March: A Million Flowers A Day

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The Louisiana State University Eunice (LSUE) prairie garden in mid-March. The LSUE project was originated by Charles Allen and Malcolm Vidrine under the auspices of Chancellor Michael Smith in 1990–a year after the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project in Eunice.

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Basal rosettes and sprouts in early March. Baptisia sphaerocarpa (Yellow wild indigo) is in the center, Monarda fistulosa (Bee balm) in on the middle bottom, and several grasses and other forbs are scattered about.

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Late March sprouts of Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) at the center of the view–other plants are sprouting and filling in the view.

 

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A view of a portion of the Cajun Prairie Gardens centering on the cluster of Hymenocallis liriosme (Fragrant spider-lily)–this is the first day of the year that I estimated a million obvious flowers were blooming; however many are smaller than these huge spider lily blooms.

March is the month that the prairie literally jumps out of the ground. By the end of March (March 20th in warm years), the prairie is roughly one foot tall, green and vibrant with one million flowers blooming each day in the Cajun Prairie Gardens and probably many millions more in the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project in Eunice. ‘A Million Flowers a Month’ is a potential subtitle for the book, as this condition lasts through the year until early November and in warm years probably until the first day of December. Really, it should be a million flowers a day, but the ‘million flowers a month’ because it rolls off the tongue more pleasantly.

The month begins with basal rosettes, which appeared in February, taking on their identities and flushing out new leaves and in some cases flowering scapes and flower buds. By mid-month, the entire surface of the prairie is readying for the first flush of flowers. Early bloomers are apparent including Nothoscordum, Houstonia, Coreopsis, Tradescantia, Claytonia, and more.

The month ends with that first explosion of blooms led by Baptisia, Hymenocallis and Amsonia. By the 30th of the month, a million flowers are obvious in the Cajun Prairie Gardens, and the bloom season is off to the races. The Baptisia (4 spp. of Wild indigo) are mainly in the dry prairie and literally overwhelm the beautiful view with their lupine-like bloom spires. Hymenocallis liriosme (Fragrant spider-lily) and Amsonia tabernaemontana (Eastern blue-star) occupy areas between the Louisiana iris rhizomes and provide extraordinary views of white spider-lilies mixed with blue-purple spires of blue-stars. Open areas are crowded with Coreopsis spp. (C. gladiata (Coastalplain tickseed), C. lanceolata (Lance-leaf tickseed) and C. pubescens (Star tickseeds)) and Tradescantia spp. (3 spp. of Spiderworts). Other areas have Claytonia virginica (Narrow-leaf spring-beauty), Viola lanceolata and Viola sagittata (Violets), Oxalis spp.(Violet and Yellow wood sorrels), Hypoxis hirsuta (Eastern yellow star-grass), Ranunculus spp. (at least 5 species of Buttercups), Anemone caroliniana (Carolina anemone), and Scutellaria parviflora (Small skullcap). Roadside ditches and disturbed areas are covered with blooming Erigeron philadelphicus (Philadelphia fleabane) and Pakera (formerly Senecio) glabella (Butterweed)—the roadside ditch winter plants of south Louisiana.

Counting species using basal rosettes within areas, e. g., quarter meter square, gives you an idea of diversity. In these gardens, an average of 10 species is found, while in the prairie remnants, an average of 40 species is found; thus these gardens may look like prairie but they are at best about 25% as diverse per unit area. Nature is so much more than we can conceive.

I am reminded of the drop of water examination in a general biology class, where we as students each brought in a water sample from a pond or ditch or stream for examination. I expected a few small items, but the drop was filled with dozens of different kinds of organisms. As a grownup, I had the opportunity to study mosquito populations in rice fields as a research scientist. I routinely brought a hand lens and bottles with me. I was using a white dipper to count mosquito larvae—a standard practice—and the white dipper served as an excellent background to see thousands of other living things in the water. I brought samples back to the lab and identified the various protists, rotifers, insects, mites, clam shrimps, cladocera, worms and much more. I (with my friends Roy E. McLaughlin and Osborne R. Willis)  was even lucky enough to discover a new species of colonial rotifer that I named after my college professor who guided me toward my Master’s Degree, Dr. Nell Causey. The species is now known as Conochilopsis causeyae—and is now considered a new genus as well. This rotifer is considered to represent an ancestral group to the other colonial rotifers and is only known from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and New Zealand—the latter record is not mine.

A similar condition exists for soil—microscopic examination of a teaspoon of soil from a natural habitat contains thousands of species and millions of organisms from bacteria to fungi to minute protists, algae, and animals. We literally have no idea as to the true diversity underfoot—but we can start to recognize the diversity among our organisms that resemble us in size and work our way down to the microscopic.

A final comment on the large pea plants known as the wild indigoes or pock-pock plants–their leaves were used to dye eggs a canary yellow for Easter pocking activities–I always think of these as my Mom did in that these are the signs of the Easter season. Large plants of Baptisia spp. (wild indigo or false indigo) often obscure many of the smaller plants. Their blooming spires, usually erect, are lupine-like (B. sphaerocarpa). Less obvious and more likely found in gallery forest edges is a less spectacular species (B. nuttalliana). These early species are yellow in color. One species, B. bracteata, has several varieties with prostrate spires with blooms literally laying out over the surface of the ground—these are extraordinary and actually my favorite among the group. Baptisia australis, the famous blue flowered species, is found in north and western prairies but not in the Cajun Prairie. Its close relative, B. alba, has white flowers and has an affiliation with wetter parts of the prairie, although it grows well in the drier locations in my experiences. In the gardens, these species appear to hybridize producing some interesting sports that may become good garden varieties. The prairie has numerous plant species that have become garden plants in the horticultural industry—knowing something about the lineages of these plants gives the gardener a sense of understanding how man and nature can interact to produce beautiful and useful plants.

Posted by M. F. Vidrine 011416 malcolmvidrine@yahoo.com

Milkweeds (and Monarchs)

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Gail in the milkweed container garden.

 

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Monarch butterfly visiting a Cajun Prairie Few-Flowered (Red) Milkweed

 

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Pollinator bees on Cajun Prairie Butterflyweed

While there are some 70 kinds of milkweeds in North America, only a dozen are found in south Louisiana, with 8 of these in the Cajun Prairie grasslands—several other species are found in the marsh along the coast or in the gallery forests. A commercially grown exotic species, Asclepias curassavica (Scarlet, Blood, Brazilian, Tropical or Mexican milkweed), can be purchased even at local big box stores when they are available—however, they do not like our winters and may die or die back and not be up and growing when the Monarchs arrive in April. So let’s talk natives and not worry about winters. Our natives die back to the ground in winter—they can also be mowed twice a year to stimulate new growth, blooming and fresh food for caterpillars/larvae of our Monarchs. The native species are up and readily available for Monarchs in the spring as they are co-evolutionarily timed to appear synchronously with the arrival of the butterflies.

Cajun Prairie species:

*Asclepias amplexicaulis      Claspingleaf (Blunt-leaf) milkweed
*Asclepias humistrata            Coastal milkweed
Asclepias lanceolata                Fewflowered (Red) milkweed
Asclepias longifolia                 Longleaf milkweed
Asclepias obovata                    Pineland milkweed
Asclepias perennis                  Aquatic (Shore) milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa                   Butterflyweed
*Asclepias variegata               White (Redring) milkweed
Asclepias verticillata              Whorled milkweed
Asclepias viridiflora               Green Comet milkweed
Asclepias viridis                      Green (Antelopehorn) milkweed

*Not found in the open prairies and marshes, but in adjacent forests and along the coast in sandy areas—these areas are within the Cajun Prairie ecosystem.

Milkweed distributions for the United States are provided at:
http://bonap.net/NAPA/TaxonMaps/Genus/County/Asclepias .

A good guide to the milkweeds is available as a PDF from Texas Parks and Wildlife: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/TPWD-Identification-Milkweeds-Texas.pdf .

Milkweeds have a great history. They were used as medicinals; their silk was used in a variety of ways; they are tremendous ornamentals; and they are host to a wide variety of organisms, most notably the Monarch and Queen butterflies.

Growing our native milkweeds has been difficult, but we at the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society have figured out how to do this with good success. At the Cajun Prairie Gardens, I have grown plants from seeds for the last 4 years with good success. The plants were then transplanted into the soil in my gardens, where they grew well and are now in good health and host Monarch larvae. I suggest that you do as I did and grow several species of milkweeds in your yard and garden—yes they can be grown along with your vegetables, but not if you use pesticides—it is then best to not grow milkweeds and invite Monarchs into a deadly zone, where the larvae will surely die.

My article on growing milkweeds is available from me as seen on the Coastal Prairie Partnership website:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4sa2oTIBeujTGFueXJ2a3J0WWktbHZQekxVN3hCT3doZWg4/edit?usp=sharing&pli=1 .
An excellent pdf file on growing milkweeds can be downloaded at the Xerces Website:
http://www.xerces.org/milkweeds-a-conservation-practitioners-guide/ .

The loss of Monarchs is coincident and correlated with the loss of pollinators and what is called ‘colony collapse disorder’ in honeybees. The loss of native plants/habitat by the intensive use of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, and other biocides in general is further complicated by the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), e.g., Roundup-ready crops like corn, soybeans and rice, where the use of herbicides is exponentially increased. Add to this the use of Roundup essentially as a defoliate in wheat at harvest time and the use of Atrazine, the second most commonly used herbicide and another endocrine disruptor. This has led to a new paradigm in agriculture. The development of the corn-based ethanol production has exacerbated the development of ordinarily unused habitat (wildscapes) with milkweeds and the overall increase in cropland. The new agricultural paradigm and the growing urbanization of the Cajun Prairie (Midwestern and Texas coastal prairies) are collectively threatening the survival of both the milkweeds and the Monarchs. Thus, opening our minds to the plight of the milkweeds and Monarchs is a prelude to the recognition of the dire straits that nature itself has slid into. We must act locally in order to alter the global changes that are likely to fall upon us.

We are currently changing wildscape habitat (6,000 acres per day) that minimally has weedy milkweeds into lawn, which provides no milkweeds at all. The opening of our lawns to milkweeds companioned with the abstinence from pesticide use, including neonicotinoids, will make these lawns home to the milkweeds and the Monarchs that will follow. We can install beautiful milkweeds in our lawns and create habitat for Monarchs and hundreds of species of bees and other insects and birds.

In Texas, environmental and educational organizations are teaming up with MonarchWatch to carry out a literal crusade (Bring Back the Monarchs: http://monarchwatch.org/bring-back-the-monarchs/ ).

Doris Durbin Heard recently reported that the Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed or Butterfly milkweed), the strikingly beautiful red-orange-yellow emblem of the prairie, was selected to be the ‘2014 Plant of the Year of the Garden Club of America’ in her note on page 15 in the June-July issue of the Garden Club magazine.

In Louisiana, the movement is beginning. Wendy Caldwell and Karen Oberhauser presented an article on Monarchs and milkweeds and promoted their preservation and restoration through the Monarch Joint Venture, a U. S. Forest Service effort, in the Louisiana Wildlife Insider, an online publication with beautiful illustrations available from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (http://monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/2013_summer_wildlife_insider_lo-res.pdf ).

Linda Auld, the Bug Lady, has provided thousands of seeds of the Brazilian milkweed and some native milkweeds for growing Monarchs. She has recently accelerated her effort with Project Monarch—an effort to promote milkweed and Monarch preservation by growing butterfly gardens.

For general milkweed gardening, Pat Sutton in her article at: http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/milkweed-for-monarchs/ discusses planting milkweeds from your region.

Susanne Dingwell also writes at her page a wonderful piece on planting native milkweeds at http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/help-monarchs-with-the-right-milkweeds/ and provides some wonderful photographs.

The goal is to replace lawn with milkweeds and create habitat for Monarchs—every town, home, business and school should be involved. It is not necessary to replace even a large piece of lawn, just a few square feet for a start. We can join them—not by paying dues or going to meetings—by planting habitat in our yards.

What is Monarch habitat?

Monarch habitat includes:
1. milkweeds, preferably native species from the Cajun Prairie, for larval food—enough to feed at least a handful of larvae.
2. nectar plants for adult food—not only do the milkweeds serve as nectar plants but any number of other flowering plants will do, including sunflowers, asters, zinnias, lantana, buddleia, daylilies, and many more. An emphasis on growing plants that bloom profusely in October and November is essential as these will provide nectar for Monarchs migrating south to Mexico. Milkweeds are essential for the Spring migration in March, April and May.
3. no pesticides—the use of glyphosates (including Roundup), Atrazine and agent orange (a mixture of equal parts 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D) kills milkweeds. Both of these are also endocrine disruptors—possibly the most dangerous factors currently affecting the health of humans on the planet.

Again the latter 2 aspects of habitat are rather easy to do, but the first requires some knowledge and sensitivity. The life cycle of the Monarch is intimately tied to milkweeds—without them literally the Monarchs disappear, forever, and therein is the problem that we can possibly solve.

Gail and I did a talk for the Houston Arboretum (Native Plant Society of Texas: Houston Chapter) talk on April 16, 2015:
* PowerPoint <http://issuu.com/prairiepartner/docs/041615-houstonarboretummilkweeds_co/1 >.This powerpoint contains pictures of the Cajun Prairie Gardens and the milkweeds of the Cajun Prairie.
* Video:  https://vimeo.com/125218940

Barbara Keller-Willy presents Milkweed: A Dinner for Butterfly Royalty to the Houston Chapter of the Native Prairies Association of Texas on February 25, 2015: https://vimeo.com/120693142 .

Marc Pastorek’s comments on growing milkweeds:
https://marcpastorek.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/planting-milkweed-seed-for-monarch-butterflies-nows-the-time/ .

Doug Tallamy’s (author of Bringing Nature Home) talk on natural landscaping:

Doug’s biodiversity talk:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEhl2ZwzCr4 —this is just excellent.
Doug Tallamy 2015 talk for Wild Ones:

Doug’s emphasis is to protect nature in order to take care of birds. He notes that many people put out seeds for birds and celebrate their role in saving the songbirds; however, they totally ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room—nestlings require insects as their food. The same half measure of providing nectar plants for butterflies and ignoring host plants for caterpillars applies here. Taking care of songbirds means providing lots of habitat for insects—as a single nestling may require more than a thousand insects, e. g., caterpillars, during development. Milkweeds and many other native plants, including many trees, are vital in this role as they host the very insects that the birds need.

A lot of recent press indicts a protozoan parasite for killing Monarchs. My friend Roy McLaughlin who studied under Professor Richard R. Kudo—author of Handbook of Protozoology (https://archive.org/details/handbookofprotoz00kudo )–described the now concerning, protozoan parasite of Monarchs in this article:
McLaughlin, R.E. and J. Myers. 1970. “Ophryocystis elektroscirrha sp.n., a neogregarine pathogen of the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus (L.), and the Florida queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus berenice Cramer.” Journal of Protozoology 17 (1970): 300-305. (original article). Read more about this protist at this website:
http://www.amnh.org/learn-teach/young-naturalist-awards/winning-essays2/2012-winning-essays/the-prevalence-of-ophryocystis-elektroscirrha-infections-in-the-monarch-butterfly-danaus-plexippus-a-study-of-the-protozoan-parasite-in-a-wild-population-of-western-monarchs.

This protozoan (protist) is found on milkweeds, where larval Monarchs ingest them and then succumb to these parasites. Overwintering protists can be hypothetically eliminated by cutting back the milkweeds that are contaminated. Of course, burning the prairie milkweeds eliminates the majority of these protists.

Milkweeds and their Monarchs are emblematic of the prairies, not only in symbolization but also in their disappearances. As the prairies disappear, the milkweeds, Monarchs and thousands of other species literally disappear, including many of the major pollinators. Growing a prairie is a great way to join the national movement to save the pollinators. The best way to begin is to focus on the Monarch and grow milkweeds and other nectar plants that Monarch’s use—their wide variety of nectar hosts are common native and some exotic plants that are also used by many other pollinators.

Here is a recent note by James Trager (March 1, 2016) regarding Monarch oviposition in the Midwest:

James C. Trager Mar 1, 2016

There is a bit of confusion about monarch oviposition (egg-laying) and feeding preferences. Common milkweed is the primary food of Midwestern monarch caterpillars because it is by far the most abundant and evenly distributed species, not because it is the most favored by the insect. Apparently, monarchs will lay eggs on just about any milkweed (genera Asclepias and Cynanchum), but in side by side comparisons of the most most common species in central USA, they prefer swamp milkweed (A. incarnata) above all, then common milkweed (A. syriaca) = showy milkweed (A. speciosa, of the western half of the region) > orange milkweed (A. tuberosa) > vine milkweed (C. laeve). Egg-laying females are highly attracted to tropical milkweed (A. curassavica), native to the American Tropics, and often planted in gardens, but this highly toxic milkweed actually stunts monarchs’ growth some (lower body weight and smaller relative wingspan compared to monarchs reared on other milkweeds), and there are indications there may be other detrimental effects to caterpillars growing on dense plantings of these milkweed, such as increased likelihood of disease transmission among the high populations of caterpillars that can form on them.

 

Additional note (031116):

Monarch numbers are apparently up as there were 4 hectares of trees with Monarchs this winter. Let’s hope that this huge low during the early part of March has not hurt these numbers too much. Much of northern Louisiana is under water.

Posted by M. F. Vidrine 011116 (malcolmvidrine@yahoo.com)