Monday, May 8, 2017

RESTORING THE PRAIRIE

At entrance crediting Drs. Charles Allen and
Malcolm Vidrine with establishment

Although I'm a native Louisianian, I had never visited Eunice, Louisiana until last week when I descended from The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, where I reside in the spring and summer months, to Cajun country for a week. My mission was to further explore prairie Louisiana and gather inspiration for a book of poetry I'm writing entitled Above the Prairie. This forthcoming book contains a section about the Cajun Prairie, an area once called "the Garden of Louisiana."

In Eunice, we toured the Cajun Music Hall of Fame Museum and the Eunice Depot Museum, the latter of which held the full cowboy uniform of "Boo" Ledoux on the lower level, a tonsillectomy chair (!) and an ancient department store cash register from Wright's Department Store in the lobby area, but our mission concerned environment rather than artifacts, and we were directed to a prairie restoration project on a ten-acre plot within the city of Eunice.

Member of the mint family
In 1988, ecologists collected seeds from prairie remnants along railroad rights of way and stored them dry until they were planted within the plot of the restoration project. Sod was also rescued from remnants in danger of being destroyed by hand digging and were propagated in containers from both cuttings and seeds. The seeds were distributed by hand by individual collectors, and this resulted in the production of a heterogeneous matrix of prairie plants. Harrowing worked the seeds into the soil, and plants in containers and sods were transplanted. The process has been described in depth by Malcolm F. Vidrine, author of The Cajun Prairie: A Natural History and a prime mover in the project who also established a Prairie Garden Project in the yard of his home — another model for restoration efforts in southwest Louisiana.

Baptisia, wild indigo

We visited the small Eunice site where a diversity of perennial prairie plants have been established, astonished that a swatch of prairie vegetation had been restored within the limits of a city. Vidrine declares that by 2010, the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project had become successful; it was carried out by members of the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society who removed the non-native tallow trees that threatened the site, transplanted prairie plants, paved a trail, and now maintain a parking lot and a covered metal shelter at the site. The restoration site has become a classroom for ecologists and has also become a model for other projects pertaining to the restoration of prairies with native plants in natural settings.

Tripsacum, a grass ancestor of corn
As I included several poems about the flowers and grasses of the Cajun Prairie in Above the Prairie, the discovery of this project involving the tallgrass prairie in southwest Louisiana was a bit of serendipity for me. Less than 100 acres of a 2.5 million acre wilderness remain in narrow strips that are identified as critically imperiled by the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program, and I was excited to see this work by restoration ecologists.

As I've often said, one photograph is worth a thousand words, and I'm including a few photographs that my botanist friend Vickie Sullivan snapped while we were walking the short concrete trail amidst this place of natural beauty.


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