A Survivor

by Patrick on April 17, 2010

I was very happy to see this iris blooming last weekend and for a couple of reasons.  First, it is a survivor.  It is growing in the shallow edge of the New Orleans City Park lagoon that is a remnant of old Bayou Metairie.   The City Park lagoon system is connected to Lake Pontchartrain via Bayou St. John, another remnant waterway that at one time was part of a system of canals that connected the Lake with the commercial district downtown.   That was back before there were roads all the way out to the lakefront.

Storms can push brackish Lake water up Bayou St. John and into the lagoons.   After the levees failed in Hurricane Katrina, it wasn’t primarily the open Bayou that channeled  the salty water;  the water poured through the breeches to the tune of seven feet and more in some areas the City.  Plant life suffered unbelievably and the irises were among them.

Some varieties of Louisiana iris are a little tolerant of salt water, but prolonged exposure will kill them.  Because a drought after Katrina denied a good flushing with fresh water, there was quite a  bit of damage, and salinity in the lagoons remained high.  I grew Louisianas not far from the Park in half barrels with no drain holes, and the salt water could not get out during the six or so weeks that passed before I could return.  A few were entirely dead and all were badly damaged.  Removed from the barrels though, they did recover well.

To all outward appearances, the City Park lagoons look like a natural home for Louisiana irises.  And before New Orleans became entirely developed, there were  vast numbers of native irises growing in what were cypress swamps and low areas.  After Katrina, the salty lagoons did not seem so hospitable.

Today there is better control of the entry of brackish water as a result of a weir and fresh water pumps that add good salt-free water to the mix.  A few years ago as the lagoons were in recovery, a group of local iris enthusiasts planted a large number of rhizomes along the banks of Bayou Metairie, including some down in the water.   It does appear that a number did not make it, but last weekend there were many scapes up with buds about to open.  And the early bloom in the picture showed that the lagoons are indeed a habitat in which Louisiana irises can grow.  Another big storm will provide a better test, but so far, so good.

The second  reason this picture made me happy is that a Louisiana iris just looks so “right” blooming in water.  The flowers and foliage have a graceful form.   Both wild and hybrid Louisiana iris flowers can be showy, but the plants are not just a vehicle for gaudy blossoms.  There are different flower shapes but this flaring one is my favorite.   It approximates the natural shape of the species I. giganticaerulea.

Louisiana irises irises look good on dry land, too.  Most people grow them in ordinary flower beds, and as long as they don’t dry out, they do just fine.

City Park is 1300 acres large.  It has made tremendous strides in recovery from Katrina.  In fact, it is booming.  Those interested can take a look at its website, including a map that shows the lagoon system.  http://neworleanscitypark.com/mapofpark.html The Bayou Metairie remnant is in the lower right.  Bayou St. John runs the entire length of the park along the right side of the map.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan April 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm

This is a lovely bloom and looks just right in the water. My Louisiana irises have buds but no flowers, yet. Being farther north than you, we have not warmed up as much as south of the lake. It looks like Marie Dolors will be the first to open. That is one I got from you, Patrick, and it has done very well in my garden.

Jan
Always Growing

Patrick April 17, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Jan, we are just hitting full bloom in New Orleans, but it was a late year. I’m not surprised that you are a week or so behind. I’ll bet it will be a good year for you, though. Marie Dolores is a really good iris. I find it has the graceful form I like and really grows well.

Patrick

Mark Schexnayder April 17, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Patrick,
The plant(s) shown are undoubtedly one of the ones you donated your community garden irises nearby that was flooded. Your children look very happy and it must make a father proud! From these first plantings eventually resulted in the sculpture garden, Big Lake and other plantings throughout New Orleans City Park. While looking spectacular, our ladies also are performing the very vital function of stabilizing the shoreline and providing habitat and a refuge for the lower ends of the food chain such as grass shrimp, insect larvae and small fish.
There is no finer setting to see our lovelies than a “natural” bayou shoreline, particularly Metairie Bayou that was so salty just 10 years ago that even some of the cypress growing on the small islands died. The irises are like canaries in a coal mine; in this case to see them thriving with their feet in the water is truly a sign of health for this small oasis. Because of Zydeco (you) and the other generous donors like Ron and Bobbie @ Plantation Point, Rusty and Bud of Bois D’ Arc, Jeff Weeks, Buddy Manuel and Benny Trahan and the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, City Park is recovering very nicely, Thank you all.
Thanks also for hosting this blog, like everything you do, this is a first-class act. Very informative and beautifully laid out.
Mark

Charlotte April 27, 2010 at 11:02 am

What a wonderful blog …. and magnificent pictures!

Laura May 1, 2010 at 11:24 am

I am so glad I found your blog this morning-
I was attracted by two of my favorites:
anything Louisiana and gardening.

I’ll be back.

I wonder if your variety of iris will grow in zone 9?

I live in South Texas.

Laura
White Spray Paint

Christian Louboutin May 18, 2010 at 1:44 am

thank! for this news it’s a good infomation !

Nancy Bond May 26, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I agree with Charlotte — great blog and wonderful photos. I’ve added it to my list of Faves and look forward to exploring further!

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