Friday, December 23, 2011

hedge-row birding

hedgerow at edge of harvested sugar-cane field
16 December 2011, Lafayette parish, LA

Ecotones are places where two or more different habitat types meet. Ecotones are known for high rates of plant and animal diversity, since they most often contain plants and animals from both/all of the involved habitat types. Woodland edges – where forests meet with other habitat types such as prairies, meadows, marshes, etc. – are fine local examples of ecotones.

Similarly, agricultural hedgerows are artificially-generated systems that mimic woodland edges in both structure and species composition. Structurally, hedgerows are linear thickets, usually about 25' in height and width, and densely-packed with trees, shrubs, and vines.

hedgerow flanking a small water course
20 December 2011, Acadia parish, LA

From a bird perspective, hedgerows represent super-safe areas where songbirds can rest and eat in near total concealment. A concealed songbird is a happy bird; and a concealed songbird surrounded by ample food resources is a super-happy bird. Ultimately, a concealed songbird surrounded by ample food and water resources is a blissfully-happy bird!

Hedgerows snake through agricultural lands of all makes and models. Here along the southern Gulf Coastal Plain of the U.S., hedgerows are most often comprised of trees such as water oak, rough-leaf dogwood, hollies, hawthorns, prickly-ash, and cedar; shrubs, like elderberry, viburnums, beautyberry, palmetto, and Chinese privet; and vines, including blackberry, catbrier, moonseed, honeysuckle, poison ivy, and wild grape. Tons of cover and tons of juicy berries.

Rusty-blackhaw Viburnum fruits

Rough-leaf Dogwood fruits

parsley hawthorn fruits
(photo by Annette Parker)

poison ivy fruits

Here in watery Louisiana, agricultural hedgerows flank small bayous, coulees, and artificial irrigation canals and ditches, nicely completing the ultimate food/cover/water formula sought by all wildlife.

Birding along hedgerows is usually very very good, especially during the fall/winter months, when berry production is at its peak, and most of the foliage has fallen, allowing for easier viewing. Following the law of the ecotone – or “edge effect” as it is more commonly known, hedgerow bird communities are very diverse, and include numerous species of hawks, doves, woodpeckers, flycatchers, vireos, wrens, thrushes, mimic thrushes, warblers, sparrows, and others. Let's take a closer look at a few:
the tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a very common
hedgerow inhabitant, especially near water, where
it subsists on gnats, mosquitoes, and tiny fruits such
as poison ivy berries

White-eyed Vireos occupy hedgerows on a year-round basis
photo by Russ Norwood

like gnatcatchers, kinglets are very tiny birds...
this Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a common winter resident
in southern hedgerows
photo by Russ Norwood

less common winter resident is the Palm Warbler
(note white "eyebrow" and yellow undertail) a bird
which tends to favor Baccharis shrub colonies
(photo by Matt Conn)

tiny lil' bandit! this Common Yellowthroat is a shrub-loving warbler species
which also seems extraordinarily fond of Baccharis shrub colonies
(photo by John Spohrer)

Swamp Sparrow placidly munching on ironweed seed
(photo by Russ Norwood

King o' da Hedge: White-crowned Sparrow
(photo by Russ Norwood

and....(drumroll).....Cooper's Hawk (immature): the bane of all
hedgerow-dwelling songbirds!
(photo by Eric Adcock)


case of da red-hot screamin' meemees

mr. mocker...mad? glad? sad?

On the afternoon of December 06 I was rudely awoken from a nice afternoon nap by furious rapping on our bedroom window, accompanied by shrill hollering. Our bedroom gives onto the back porch, and there near the window sat a mockingbird on an overturned bucket. From there, he'd launch himself up against the window, pecking and shrieking, time and again. During spring breeding season, this sort of behavior is not uncommon in hormone-crazed male mockingbirds and cardinals. But in the dead of winter? What gives?

Stomping out onto the back porch, I went to remove the overturned bucket. I guess in my sleepy mind I figured if I removed his perch, he'd give up and leave. 

da bucket in question

 Staring down at the bucket, I noticed strange reddish mocker-droppings. Whoa. Was this blood? Was he sick? Dying?

Checking around the nearby porch railing, I found more piles of mocker-droppings -- ten(!) more, to be exact.

ouch! cayenne pepper droppings!

Aha. Those droppings were filled with seeds. Pepper seeds. Cayenne pepper seeds (I could tell by their size and shape). A grand total of thirteen piles of cayenne pepper droppings. Oh man. You crazy beast; what have you done?

Most of you are probably aware that birds like peppers. Dried peppers are included in commerical parrot feed. I've personally seen at least a half-dozen species of songbirds eating small native peppers called "bird pepper" or chile pequin (Capsicum annuum glaberisculum). Why do birds like hot peppers? Is it for the shot of vitamin C that they contain? Or for the systemic stimulation/rush of capsacin in the old blood stream? Or are peppers actually nutrient-rich from a food standpoint? Maybe all of the above? I don't know the answer(s), and I'm not sure whether anyone's studied on it.

One thing's for sure: this particular mocker hadn't just nibbled on a cayenne pepper and leave it at that. He had in fact eaten LOTS of cayenne pepper (we had lots of leftover cayennes in our garden, only about 15' away from the back porch), and he was acting crazy.

An hour or so later as I went out to my truck, there he was, perched on a rear-view mirror, hollering and defecating all over the top of the mirror and all over the pick-up bed -- another good dozen piles of pepper-poo in all. 

What the...? I mean, did he eat until his entire GI tract was crammed with pepper??

Ah, Nature. You just never know what you'll encounter next . . .

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

turtle boy and the green-tailed towhee

Turtle Boy...kickin' butt 'n takin' names...

It would be no great exaggeration to say that Matt Conn grew up at Lafayette's Acadiana Park Nature Station. Even before I got there in 1986, Matt had already gained infamy as the star of “Turtle Boy,” naturalist Steve Shively's short film featuring eight-year-old Matt and his backyard menagerie of turtles. Thanks to his mom, Kim, Matt and sister Emily visited the Nature Station seemingly just about every week for years; and like many kids, Matt fell hard for the Wild Things. As a college student he went on to work under me as a teaching naturalist at the Nature Station before graduating from ULL with a degree in Renewable/Sustainable Resources. Today, Matt serves as Senior Ecological Project Manager for the John Chance company, a survey/environmental/regulatory firm in Lafayette.

typical "scrub-shrub" habitat bordering a live oak forest

A few years ago, Matt jumped at the chance to acquire 67-acres of freshly-mutilated live oak forest, marsh, and cypress swamp down in Iberia parish, just above Weeks Island. Since then he's planted thousands of trees and is carefully managing the recovery of that diverse little chunk of land.

the elusive/reclusive Seaside Sparrow in a salt-marsh above Sabine Pass
(photo by Matt Conn)

Matt also got into nature photography, and went straight for the most difficult of natural subjects – birds. Unlike plants or turtles, birds move around a lot, and it's exceedingly difficult to capture decent images of them. Now, Matt's wanting to learn all he can about birds; but rather than carrying around a field guide and a pair of binoculars, he just totes his camera, shoots hundreds of frames, and then identifies them later at his leisure. Recently – and much to our mutual benefit – he's been taking shortcuts and simply sending me photos of the birds whose identities he can't figure out.

Green-tailed Towhee; note lovely citrine-yellow edges to folded wing feathers
(photo by Matt Conn)

Just after dawn on 29 October, he photographed a bird at the scrubby entrance to his land that he knew was very different from the regularly-occuring species that he'd been observing. Looking through his field guide, he identified it himself: a Green-tailed Towhee; a ground/brush-dwelling, stout-billed, long-tailed, sparrow-like bird of the mountain-region of the western U.S. During the winter months, Green-tailed Towhees migrate down into the far southwestern U.S. and Mexico. The easternmost edge of the Green-tailed Towhee's wintering grounds is west-central Texas. But as birds are wont to do, a few of them always end up well outside their wintering grounds; some species more than others.

That's the thing about birds. They have wings, and those wings often carry them to wacky places. Birds that are encountered out of place are called “vagrants.”

Like all states, Louisiana keeps close track of its birds – even its vagrant birds. In fact, vagrant bird sightings are the most eagerly-anticipated of all. They're just so . . . vagrant . . . y'know? Some arid-southwestern U.S. vagrant species such as Rufous Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Vermilion Flycatcher are actually regularly-occurring in Louisiana each winter, with a dozen or two (or more) annual records for each. Others like Scott's Oriole, Sage Thrasher, and the Green-tailed Towhee are recorded much more infrequently, certainly not every winter. In fact, according to Louisiana Bird Records Committee chairman Steve Cardiff, there were only 10 total records of Green-tailed Towhee on file for Louisiana prior to this winter.

Matt's Green-tailed Towhee (lodged here in a honey locust tree)
 is one of four recorded thus far in Louisiana this winter
(photo by Matt Conn)

This winter is shaping up to be an odd one, weather-wise and bird-wise. It's going to be a noticeably warmer one, for starters; and with the awful devastation of food, water, and habitat resources in drought-plagued Texas, Louisiana is already receiving a number of rarely-occurring vagrants, including four Green-tailed Towhee sightings thus far. This winter's Green-tailed Towhee sightings have emanated from just south of Shreveport, just south of Alexandria, the Thornwell area of southern Jeff Davis parish, and Matt's bird in Iberia parish. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

winter color on da gulf rim

Swamp Red Maple (Acer drummondii)

Yeah yeah, I know. Down here along the Gulf Rim there's not much fall foliage color to brag about. But what we do have is a winter foliage color show – not in vast expanses, mind you, but definitely in small clumps here and there. It's not exactly gonna rip the eyes right out of your head; rather, it's a matter of opening one's eyes and actually looking for it.

Baldcypress intermingling with a hybrid Holly
(Ilex opaca x cassine) in our backyard;
excellent contrast in both color and texture

Generally, our winter foliage color season begins in November, when baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) reveals the first hints of rust color in its needles. Other early colorizers include black cherry (Prunus serotina) and cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia). With each passing day, the cypress colors up a little more, until finally around Thanksgiving it drops everything, thickly covering the ground below with a rich, rusty-red carpet.

Cedar Elm (left) and American Hornbeam (right)
provide a nice combination behind our barn

Swamp Cyrilla (Cyrilla racemiflora) is a personal favorite, turning
red/orange/yellow gradually, and over a long period of time

Witch Hazel provides yellow fall color AND fragrant blooms;
all in November!

Black Cherry going orange-yellow
on the northern edge of our backyard

Meanwhile, additional pockets of color can be found in individual specimens of swamp red maple (Acer drummondii), American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), sweetgum (Liquidambar styriciflua) and sassafras – and of course Chinese tallow (Sapium sebiferum), but decent folks don't like to talk about that one . . .

Wetland oaks including Nuttall (Quercus texana) and overcup (Q. lyrata) don't begin turning until December; but by Christmas they are both wonders to behold.

Let it be known as well that there are a few outstanding winter-foliage natural areas in northern Louisiana which are easily accessible. The best by far is Sicily Island Hills Wildlife Management Area (see and ) in extreme northeastern Catahoula parish; and the best time for winter color is Thanksgiving week. Also visit-worthy are Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park and Eddie Jones Park ( ), both in Caddo parish around Shreveport. Both of those park feature, among numerous other color plants, stands of southern sugar maple (Acer barbatum), one of the most stunningly colorful of all our winter plants. The Macon Ridge, an ancient Mississippi River escarpment up in Morehouse parish above Monroe also holds nice stands of southern sugar maple. Kalorama Nature Preserve is a fine destination on Macon Ridge. Check it out. And check out Kalorama curator Beth Erwin's fine blog ( 'The View From the Hill' while you're at it.

Fall/winter foliage color arises from red, orange, and yellow-pigmented metabolic wastes (carotenoids, anthocyanins, etc.) which are actually contained in the leaves long before we see them. Toward the end of a leaf's life, chlorophyll production ceases; and once all the residual chlorophyll drains out, its metabolic wastes are finally unmasked.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

sparse nesters...

Northern Flicker showing off its shafts...
(photo by Larry Amy)

Down-river pal Larry Amy recently sent in some nice backyard bird photos from his place on the Vermilion River in Lafayette. Serendipitously, all of the photos featured birds that nest only sparingly here in the cusp of the coastal zone and southern-interior of Louisiana. Most of you are probably familiar with these birds; but chances are that you locals observe them more in fall/winter than in summer. That's because – for reasons unknown – very few pairs of each of these species decide to nest down at this latitude in any given year. It would seem that both food resources and nesting habitat for each of these birds can be found in good supply here in south Louisiana – possibly to an even greater degree than they can be found at the northern ends of their respective breeding ranges. So what's the deal?

Ah, Nature.

The first feature bird is the Northern Flicker. In Larry's photo above, you can readily see how it got its alternative common name, the Yellow-shafted Flicker. Pretty fine, non? “Yellow Hammer” is another common name – one which we used as kids growing up in Ville Platte. 'Course, being from Ville Platte, we pronounced it, “yella hammuh.”

"Yella Hammuh" preparing to hammer...
(photo by Larry Amy)

The few Northern Flickers that I've detected nesting down here over the years have been confined to urban forests – places in towns and cities hosting large neighborhoods of big, mature shade trees. Come October, though, and Yellow-shafted Flickers flood into our region from all over; and their piercing, “KYEAR!” cries can be heard all through the fall and winter months.

More than any other woodpecker, flickers spend much time on the ground gobbling up bugs and other arthropods – including ants. There's a well-told story amongst bird people about gut-analysis performed on the stomach of a single flicker which turned up 5,000 ants(!).

Lydia calls the Belted Kingfisher, the "Blue Monseiur"
due to its fancy hairdo...
(photo by Larry Amy)

Feature bird number two is the Belted Kingfisher, a wetland-associated bird that tunnels into steep stream banks to make its nest. And when I say “tunnel” I mean TUNNEL; for the average tunnel length is three to four feet, with one as long as twelve feet being reported (see Oberholser's Bird Life of Louisiana, 1938). Again, there seems to be no shortage of steep stream banks down here, so why don't we host more nesting kingfishers? Fortunately, Dan Debaillon Coulee (“coulee” is a Cajun word for “gulley” or intermittent stream, ya'll; from the French, couler [“to run”]), which runs right below the north deck of the Acadiana Park Nature Station in Lafayette has handsomely-steep banks, and hosted a pair of nesting Belted Kingfishers for most of the twenty-four summers that I worked there.

Hollerin' Red-tailed Hawk
(photo by Larry Amy)

And then there's the good old Red-tailed Hawk, which enjoys one of the most cosmopolitan breeding range of any North American bird. Southern Louisiana is a winter epicenter for this species. Swamp edges, ag-field edges, meadow edges, pipeline and utility-line rights-of-ways, and roadsides of any sort are all good locations for this bird, which flocks into Louisiana by the thousands (if not tens-of-thousands) each fall and winter. Come summer, though, and Red-tailed nests are few and far-between in these parts. Larry's fortunate enough to have a nesting pair somewhere very near to his Lafayette backyard.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

seldom-seen Louisiana birds . . .

Nelson's Sparrow -- note intricate patterning....handsome devils!
(photo by Jeff Trahan)

On September 28, Shreveport birders Terry Davis and Jeff Trahan, who were conducting a routine migratory shorebird survey at the Yates Tract of the Red River National Wildlife Refuge (south of Shreveport, just northwest of Coushatta, LA), ran across a small group of migrating Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows. Seldom seen in Louisiana anywhere away from our coast, Nelson's Sparrow is a far-northern breeder (west-central interior Canada and Atlantic coast of Canada) that spends its winters tucked tightly withinin the marshes of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the U.S.

Finding a Nelson's Sparrow anywhere away from its isolated breeding and wintering grounds is a pretty big deal, as this bird tends to stick to marshland habitats even during migration.

Back in 1938 (from The Bird Life of Louisiana) when there were precious few non-game-bird observers living in Louisiana, ornithologist Harry Oberholser characterized this species as “a rare winter the Gulf Coast region of Louisiana,” and at that time was not aware of any Nelson's Sparrow sightings away from coastal marshes. By 1974 (see Louisiana Birds) ornithologist George Lowery, Jr. had realized that Nelson's Sparrow was actually common during winter throughout our coastal marshes; but reported only a handful of records away from the coast – only two of which came from the northern half of the state (“at Shreveport” in October 1963 and “at Natchitoches” -- probably from the state fish hatchery -- in December 1972). Even today, if you want to see a Nelson's Sparrow, you'll probably need to hang out around cattail marshes as near to the coast as possible – in winter of course. You gotta work for this one, ya'll.

Nelson's Sparrow -- Red River NWR 28 Sept 2011
(photo by Jeff Trahan)

Davis and Trahan noted that their Nelson's Sparrows were actually feeding on the seeds of a small unidentified weed species. Fortunately, Jeff got a bird/plant photo, which he forwarded to me. Like Jeff and Terry, I had no clue as to the identity of the plant, so I forwarded the photo to botanist Charles Allen, who promptly identified it as valley redstem (Ammannia coccinea), a moist-soil plant which is actually pretty common throughout most Louisiana parishes. If you've done any tromping through wetland habitats in Louisiana, chances are you've tromped on valley redstem.

Another little-observed bird in Louisiana is the Bobolink, a member of the blackbird family that is seen in our state only during migration periods, primarly spring migration. Like Nelson's Sparrow, the Bobolink nests in the far-northern U.S. and Canada, and tends to congregate around marshes during migration. Bobolinks are champion migrants, engaging in epic 12,000+ mile round-trip annual jaunts between the northern U.S./Canada and Argentina.

Bobolink, female or young male
(photo by Paul Conover; see

In Louisiana we normally see Bobolinks through a rather narrow spring migration window extending from late April through May. These days, one of the most dependable places to see them in Louisiana during that time frame is within grassy/weedy areas (such as back-beach dunes and roadsides) adjacent to marshes around Grand Isle and Port Fourchon.

During this same time period, we used to regularly find them here in south-central Louisiana in the weedy fields adjacent to the Lake Martin road south of Breaux Bridge, but those fields have since fallen to suburbia.

I'll never forget my first Bobolink sighting -- a small group of them had set down in an unplanted cotton field just south of Monroe in late spring 1979. I even heard the loud, metallic, banjo-like "bob-o-link" cries of the males in the group. Go ahead and google "male bobolink" to get a load of this dapper dude.

Bobolinks employ an elliptical migration route whereby they fly northbound directly through Louisiana and the northern Gulf Coast in spring; but on their southbound return in fall stick primarily to the Atlantic Coast. During fall, they are said to course over the eastern seaboard, island-hop through the Caribbean, then enter northern South America en route to Argentina. But in certain years they're sighted way out over the Atlantic Ocean (from Bermuda) as well, creating speculation that when the winds are right, they eschew the North American coast and possibly the Caribbean altogether, flying non-stop to South America. Watching them cut so easily through the air during spring migration through Louisiana, it's not hard to imagine them staying aloft for thousands of miles at a time, especially with a decent tailwind...

In 1974 Lowery called the Bobolink “a common spring transient” but “extremely rare this far west in fall on its return journey southward.” Here you should understand the Lowery was calling it “a common spring transient” from a field ornithologist's perspective – one who actually goes out looking for them during that narrow window of time. Otherwise, it's definitely not so “common” to more casual birders and non-birders.

Interestingly, even farther back in 1938, Oberholser called the Bobolink “fairly common in southeastern Louisiana” (rare elsewhere in Louisiana) during both spring and fall migration periods, suggesting the possibility that its continental population level then was large enough to exhibit regular “overflow” as far west as southeastern Louisiana during each fall migration period. Either that, or fall weather patterns along the Atlantic Coast were substantially different than today's. Or possibly both. Regardless, seeing Bobolinks in fall migration anywhere in Louisiana is a big thing in this day and age.

fall-migrating Bobolink (female type) sitting atop narrow-leaf sumpweed
along Lighthouse Road, western Cameron parish, LA
(photo by Paul Conover)

So guess what? Along with Nelson's Sparrows, Davis and Trahan also found Bobolinks at the Red River NWR on September 28. Whoa. And there's more. On that same day, Lafayette birders Paul Conover and Dave Patton also found Bobolinks a couple of hundred miles south of Davis and Trahan – in extreme western Cameron parish near Sabine Pass – right near the Louisiana-Texas border. Everyone involved agrees that these birds were probably blown westward off their usual eastern seaboard course by the persistent low-pressure pattern (= counterclockwise winds) that's been in place over the northeastern U.S. for much of this summer and fall. To reinforce this theory, other noted "elliptical migrants" including Black-throated Blue Warblers -- and even a Blackpoll Warbler (exceedingly rare in fall migration; recently found by Paul Conover in western Cameron parish) -- are showing up this fall in Louisiana.

Monday, September 19, 2011

ooh that smell . . .

Cestrum nocturnum -- Night-blooming Jessamine
(not "Jasmine" but "Jessamine;" there's a difference...)

Beginning about five days (or, better...nights) after the 6.5” of rain we got from Tropical Storm Lee, Lydia and I were seated in our usual evening positions on the back porch. Suddenly we became overwhelmed by the penetrating perfume of Night-blooming Jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum). What with the droughty summer & all, I guess we had sort of forgotten about the two specimens planted on either side of the front/south side of our house. So dry it was, they hadn't even bothered with making flowers all season.

But on the evening of September 10 . . . BAM! Carried on a bare whiff of southerly breeze, the fragrance crept like soft fingers from Heaven some 65' to the back porch, simultaneously hitting both of us. Oh what a scent:  An ancient perfume, immediately transporting us back to our childhoods, maybe all the way to our grandmothers' dressing tables. Truthfully, there's no good way that I can describe such a magical fragrance in words. . . it's just too fine for that . . . better to smell it, then you'll know exactly what I'm trying to write.

Interestingly, the genus Cestrum comes from the plant family Solanaceae – the Nightshade family – from which comes stuff like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, wolf-berries, horse-nettles, and such; none of which produce bloom-scents that could even remotely be described as “perfumy” or even “penetrating.” You'll notice from the photo that unlike the blooms of tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants, night-blooming jessamine blooms are long and tubular and really hold some scent. Those of you who grow it will also notice that the closer you stick your nose to the bloom, the more pungent – almost acrid – the scent becomes. Its perfume is best-appreciated from a distance; at least 10-15' away at minimum, I'd say.

Night-blooming Jessamine Fruits

Cestrum is a New World tropical/sub-tropical genus containing about 150 species; only a few of which produce perfumy blooms. All Cestrums produce berries. Night-blooming jessamine produces fairly large, white, porcalein-like fruits that birds love. The birds then spread the seeds around, and so(w) spreads the plant. In pre-Katrina New Orleans, Cestrum nocturnum was so prevalent that most gardeners considered it a weed. Katrina's big brackish flood wiped out all of the night-blooming jessamines that it touched, however; and today, I'm sure many New Orleanians are pining away for it. In her fine book, The New Orleans Garden, Charlotte Seidenberg mentions that Cestrum nocturnum, native to the West Indies, has been grown in New Orleans since the 1700s.

This morning (19 Sept) I noticed fresh new blooms on our Sweet Olives. Hoo-Boy. The Jessamine/Sweet Olive mix just might do us in....but what a way to go, non?

For more on Sweet Olive, be sure to check out Gail Barton's recent post ( on her blog.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

tough plants for tough times...


Well it's been a long time coming, now here we are. Been promising this post all summer....

Our climate is changing. Here in southern Louisiana we can expect a hotter and drier climate; indeed, we've already entered into that scenario. Without steady irrigation, our typically lush, tropical gardens will be a thing of the past. Well, tropical, yes; but lush, no. I don't know about you, but I've never been one to water an ornamental garden. Don't have the time nor the inclination. So what to do? Use plants that don't need any supplemental irrigation.

Below is my 'tough plants for tough times' list for Gulf Rim gardens (zones 8-9). These plants are not only drought-tolerant, but flood-tolerant as well...which is good, since we are still prone to occasional deluges (September 3-4, tropical storm Lee for example, dumped 6.5” on our garden; twenty-four hours after which it looked like it hadn't rained at all...). Listed plants are all very long-lived as well. Most will perform beautifully for at least 15 years; and in fact most have lived in our garden for 20 or more years. Lastly, in order to make this list, plants must have BIG aesthetic appeal: long blooming season and/or excellent texture and/or foliage color.

Dwarf Bottlebrush 'Little John'
(or, if you're from New Orleans, "Lil' Jawn")

Dwarf Bottlebrush 'Little John' (Callistemon vinialis) – I believe this is an Australian native – same as the full-sized Callistemon citrinus. Survived last year's exceptionally cold winter (yeah, I know, 'what about global warming, smarty-pants?' Note that a massive high-pressure dome was parked over Alaska all last winter, not only creating one of Alaska's warmer winters on record, but also conveyor-belting arctic air deep into the U.S. interior all the while....) here in horticultural zone 8b/9a. Excellent texture; sea-green foliage hue; blooms early spring – summer. Full-sun. Butterflies/hummingbirds.

typical Bottlebrush bloom

Lantana 'Miss Huff'
a probable L. camara X L. urticoides hybrid

Lantana (Lantana camara/urticoides) – I'm not talking about the dwarfish creeping types (L. montevidensis, etc.) here – though for all I know they may be tough as well – but the naturalized shrub types that have inched their way up into the Louisiana coastal zone from Mexico and the Caribbean. L. camara is the species that old-timers know as “Ham n' Eggs”..... L. urticoides is an orange/red bloomer. Both are awesome for duration of bloom and general bad-ass toughness. Full to half-sun. Butterflies/hummingbirds.

Turk's Cap

Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii) – A hibiscus family member native to coastal Louisiana – specifically, in cheniere (live oak-dominated coastal forests). Winter-hardy all the way up to Shreveport. Runs like a Banshee in full sun, so be careful. Perfect for half-shade to bright filtered light, especially around the bases of shade trees, where little else will grow. There, it behaves itself nicely, laying down into a 3-4' groundcover. Butterflies/hummingbirds/songbirds.

Antique Rose 'Caldwell Pink'

'Caldwell Pink' Antique Rose – Amazingly, this 4' X 6' bush rarely if ever needs pruning! It barely even needs dead-heading. It's like the Ever-ready Rabbit, blooming and blooming despite drought or flood. Classed as a 'China' rose, which accounts for its everblooming habit. The only drawback is its lack of fragrance. Full-sun.

Pavonia hastata

Pavonia hastata – Pavonias are hibiscus family members. Over 270 species worldwide, including a couple of natives from the southwestern U.S. where it is commonly known as “rock rose.” P. hastata, however, is from South America. Here along the Gulf Rim it grows to about 4' X 4'. Like shrub lantana and 'Caldwell Pink' rose, it always seems to be in bloom. Should it get unruly, just cut that sucker back to about 18” and it'll straighten up and fly right. Full sun. Oddly, I have not noted much butterfly/hummer activity.

Tropical Sage

The Mighty Salvias – There are about 700 Salvia species worldwide. This is the same genus containing the herb, “sage” (Salvia officinalis). Here in the U.S., ornamental Salvias are among the best hummingbird attractors in the garden. The most beautiful Salvias hail from the mountains of Mexico, Central America, and South America; but one species, called Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea) is native to coastal Louisiana. This species is one of the first plants that I'd recommend for a butterfly/hummingbird garden. Try to get native stock if you can. You'll see a number of cultivars offered in the trade. They're OK, but they are short-lived. Native tropical sage is sorta rangy, growing up to 5+ feet; but if you need it shorter, all you have to do is snap its weak stems down to the height you prefer. I've seen it used as a dense groundcover below live oaks, and maintained at 6” height with a weedeater. Native tropical sage will throw a lot of seed over time, developing into gorgeous clumps here and there. It's easy to transplant, easy to dead-head, and easy to weed-out. Blooms constantly. I even remember it blooming in January at our place one year. Shade to full-sun.

Anise Sage

Anise Sage (Salvia guaranitica) comes in a very close second to tropical sage on the “must have” list for butterfly/hummingbird gardens. This South American native blooms consistently spring/summer/fall here in south Louisiana. Does not seed. Shade to full-sun.

Salvia 'Argentine Skies'

Salvia 'Argentine Skies' is basically a powder-blue color form of anise sage. But anise sage makes modest clumps over the years, whereas 'Argentine Skies' runs hard. Use it to fill big spaces. Half-shade to full sun.


Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis aka Zexmenia hispidula) – is sometimes listed as a southern U.S. native, but I'm not so sure. As with Turk's cap, tropical sage, and shrub lantana, I believe that horseherb is a New World tropical species that probably got into the wild here on its own (migratory songbirds??). It showed up at our place about 20 years ago, but didn't really spread until after the Big Flood of May 2004. It's a shade-loving perennial groundcover. Lydia's scared of it. I love it...the plant, that is....not the fact that she's scared of it. I find it very easy to weed out of places where we don't want it. Lydia disagrees. We have agreed to disagree on many subjects during our 30+ years together. . .

Basket Grass

Basketgrass (Oplismenus setarius) – is yet another species from the American tropics that has naturalized here in the southern U.S. Are ya'll detecting a pattern here? Tough plants. Naturalized. If they're gonna make it, they've got to really really want to. Anyway, texturally basketgrass is a gorgeous thing. Like horseherb, it's a shade-lover. By the way, when they're in their 'happy place,' both horseherb and basketgrass colonize with enough density to preclude weeds.

Big Bluestem; producing its late-summer
bloom culms

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) – There are quite a few native grasses that make excellent garden plants, and its so sad that so few are used. Remember: grasses impart a “flowing” texture in the garden that few other plants can match. Grasses “finish” sunny gardens, just as ferns “finish” shady gardens. Incorporating grasses and ferns is the mark of a fine garden(er). Color's cool, but texture's tops! When not in bloom, big bluestem has a fine, fountain-type growth habit. Many genetic strains have very cool gray-green foliage and colorful red-yellow joints on their bloom culms.

Dwarf Maiden Grass 'Adiago'
(admittedly, not photographed at its me...)

Dwarf Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio') – Maiden grass is native to Asia and Africa, and one of the most horticulturally-developed genera in the world. Hundreds of M. sinensis cultivars have been developed over the years. A couple of these cultivars have proven to be invasive within U.S. east coast habitats; but not so in south Louisiana. My favorite maiden grass cultivar is 'Adiago,' a dwarf that grows to no more than 3' X 3' excellent “finishing” plant for sunny gardens.

Southern Shield Fern
(the Tropical Sage went ahead & seeded itself in)
Southern Shield Fern (Thelyptris kunthii) – A drought/flood-tolerant fern? Yep! This cosmopolitan species is native not only to Louisiana but also to the entire U.S. Gulf South, West Indies, Mexico, Central America, and down through much of South America! Pale-green – bordering on chartreuse-green – matte-finished fronds contrast beautifully with shinier, darker-green shade-loving companions. Toughest Gulf Rim fern you'll ever meet. Half-sun to full shade.