They rescue Louisiana irises to replant nature preserves
JEAN LAFITTE, La. (AP) — A group that has rescued and replanted more than 20,000 Louisiana irises since 2017 is holding bring-your-own-shovel events this winter to help save Louisiana’s state wildflower.
The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative was incorporated as a nonprofit in April. But its members have been working for years to save the iris from areas slated for development and plant them in nature preserves. They are planting another 8,500-plus this winter.
A project scheduled Sunday will help restore Louisiana blue iris lost to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to a news release from the town of Jean Lafitte. Publicist Paul Christiansen says volunteers planted 1,000 irises there last year, and may plant even more this year.
Vast expanses of Louisiana irises once bloomed in swamps and marshes. They were so common that many people considered them weeds that clogged their roadside ditches, initiative founder Gary Salathe wrote on the American Iris Society blog in September. But development, herbicides, hurricanes and saltwater intrusion into marshes have killed many of them.
“A whole generation in Southeast Louisiana has never seen the springtime bloom of wild irises,” Salathe wrote.
Because of that, many plantings — like Sunday’s along Jean Lafitte’s Wetlands Trace — are next to boardwalks where people go to see and learn about swamps and marshes. Salathe wrote that he hopes that will lead to calls to use irises in commercial and government marsh restoration projects.
His group, with volunteers coming from a number of organizations, began this year’s plantings in October and will continue into February. Most of the projects are in the New Orleans area, but the initiative is also working with groups in Houma and New Iberia.
In addition to sites slated for development, the group gets plants from people whose iris beds need thinning and even from a drainage ditch where irises were floating in a mat of invasive water hyacinths. They also have four sites where they can thin out irises grown from those that they planted earlier.
The state flower is the largest of five species called Louisiana iris. The five can all hybridize, which has led to more than 100 natural varieties in a wild range of colors including purple, red, yellow and orange. Breeders have created many other varieties.
Organizers say that in addition to bringing shovels, volunteers should wear boots, long pants and long-sleeved shirts — and if possible, bring a long-handled branch cutter. And wear masks.