“OLD NURSERY HIKING TRAIL” SOON TO OPEN IN JUNGLE GARDENS

What began 3 years ago as just an idea — to make a hiking trail through the wooded area of the “Old Nursery” in Jungle Gardens on Avery Island — saw some serious advancement last summer. Lisa Osborn, Herbert Leavitt, and I marked the proposed path of this trail by walking through the forested area of the Jungle Gardens’ Old Nursery (where E. A. McIlhenny grew plants for wholesale). We chose a potential route beginning at the edge of the woods not far from the Jungle Gardens parking lot and walked from that point all the way to the opposite forest edge ending at the Yellow Timber Bamboo.

Bernard Patout, head grounds keeper for Avery Island, then came to our assistance with his heavy equipment. He followed our yellow flagging and cut a spectacular serpentine trail through the forest. The trail is particularly attractive because it winds left and right, up and down, so that at any one point you cannot see the path behind you or in front of you.

This route eventually met and crossed a deep ravine (gully), which is also a wonderful sight to see. On March 12th and 13th, 2020, the Avery Island work force built a bridge over this ravine and it, too, is an amazing accomplishment. The bridge is both wide and strong enough so that service vehicles will be able to use it for trail maintenance.

This hiking trail will be marked and open to the pubic very soon.

The new hiking trail through the old nursery.

AN OLD CAMELLIA GROVE REDISCOVERED IN JUNGLE GARDENS

Its not every day that you discover a garden hidden from view for over 70 years.


A “new” OLD CAMELLIA GARDEN which was discovered last year, hidden in plain sight (almost) in Jungle Gardens. Today, January 10th, it has been revealed for all to see.
It was late in the blooming season of last year when we first noticed a few camellias inside a thick bamboo grove. At that time, a casual inspection of the plants nearest to the road suggested there might be about a half dozen large camellias. The bamboo was so thick that venturing far into the grove was not possible. Essentially nothing more was visible beyond the first few camellias due to the density of the bamboo.


Last week Bernard Patout and his team cleared the bamboo from the entire area where the camellias are growing. What materialized was not just a handful of camellias but no less than 43 camellias, planted in rows covering a substantial area. Some of these camellias are over 25 feet tall, no doubt because they struggled to reach the sun while competing with bamboo. It seems this grove of camellias was consumed by the adjacent bamboo during the last 70+ years and essentially vanished right before our eyes.


This is an exciting discovery because these camellias are some of the originals planted in the gardens over 70 years ago and that they have not been seen nor studied since that time. It is even possible that this group many contain some of the rarest camellias, known to have been in Jungle Gardens but never found!


It will be a fascinating group of plants for camellia enthusiast to study and identify. I tried photographing some of the flowers but many are so high up in the tall trees that my camera lens would not permit decent photos.


Now with the bamboo in its proper place these newly discovered camellias will be able to thrive and flourish. The plants looks surprisingly good and all of them have great color and appear to be very healthy. This newly discovered grove of Camellias is located not far from the Buddha parking circle as indicated on the map.

The Ivory Billed Woodpeckers of Avery Island

Ivory Billed Woodpecker (male)

There is likely no other native bird in North America that remains so fascinating, so mesmerizing, as the Ivory Billed Woodpecker (IBW). To many it is an almost magical bird. A bird so bewitching that even a reported 2005 sighting by experienced ornithologists eludes verification. Considered extinct by many and extant by others, the IBW captivates the imagination of many in the birding world. The only treatise of the species, The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker by James Tanner (1942), was the culmination of Tanner’s research and observations of IBWs in northern Louisiana in the 1930s. Yet since the reported sighting in 2005 no fewer than a dozen new books have been written about this hypnotic bird.

We knew that the IBW had been observed in the past on Avery Island and that E. A. McIlhenny wrote about these sightings on several occasions. There are references in James Tanners book “The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker” (1942) to both Avery Island and McIlhenny.

What we did not know until very recently is that two IBW specimens from Avery Island (male and female) exist in the collection of Cornell University in Ithaca NY. The specimens were brought to our attention by a Louisiana native, Matt Courtman, an IBW researcher who, while visiting Cornell, made the discovery. The two specimens are spectacular, some of the best IBW’s Matt has ever seen. Matt has had a long fascination with IBWs and will provide more information about the provenance of those two specimens. Currently all that is known is that the birds were collected by McIlhenny on April 7, 1895.

McIlhenny apparently closely watched the Avery Island IBWs throughout the 1890s. I have found his detailed accounts of nesting activities observed between 1892 and 1894. He reported on several active nests he monitored in great detail in the “Avery Swamp.” During that time he recorded the number of eggs laid, how many eggs per nest, and how many young per nest. There is no doubt he spent a considerable amount of time observing the nesting habits of Avery Island IBW pairs, commenting on them excavating nest cavities.

The common Pileated Woodpecker is regularly confused with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBW). The average non-birdwatching individual often assumes that just about any large black-and-white woodpecker could be or is an Ivory-billed.

If one brings up the subject of the IBW, a common response is “they are common around here today”. So without much thought many people simply assume the two birds are one and the same. This widespread inability to distinguish the Pileated Woodpecker from the IBW only serves to make skeptics out of those most able to distinguish between the two species.

 

Pileated above, Ivory Billed Below
McIlhenny’s letter to James Tanner.
Tanner’s reply to McIlhenny.
Avery Island Ivory Billed Woodpecker specimens at Cornell Univ.
Avery Island specimens, just look at the size of their beaks!
Female Ivory Billed lower specimen, Male Ivory Billed upper specimen.

Chinese Oaks in Jungle Gardens producing acorns

The two old Chinese Oak trees located on the grassy hill near the Buddha Circle are producing acorns for the first time in three years.


I have watched these two exotic oak trees growing in Jungle Gardens now for 3 consecutive years and this is the only year during in which both trees show some serious acorn production.


Last year one of the trees, the Red Bark Oak, (Quercus gilva) did have small acorns but they never fully developed and all of them eventually aborted at a very small size. The failure to grow to any appreciable size suggested the flowers had not been suitably pollinated. That same season the nearby Bamboo Oak (Quercus myrsinifolia) showed no signs of any acorn production.


Yesterday I visited both trees and much to my surprise there is a considerable number of acorns on both trees and they are large. The acorns I saw yesterday are much larger and more numerous than any I saw last year. I don’t know what conditions might have prompted pollination but it appears both might produce a crop of nuts this year.

I will be monitoring their progress very closely.

Searching for the Rarest Plants ever found on Avery Island

June 4th, 2019

For decades I have known about the rarest of all native plants ever discovered on Avery Island, and for decades I have searched for and yet still not relocated three of these rarest species. Each was collected only once back in the 1930s and then never seen again. The plants have always intrigued me, and I have spent countless hours exploring deep ravines on the Island in hopes of locating them again. My searches have not been in vain, for I have made numerous discoveries of other rare plants, several of which had never been reported for Avery Island. But my hopes of relocating these three original discoveries have not yet materialized. This month, however, I made a special effort to track down the location of the actual herbarium specimens of these rare plants.
My first search led me to the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (PANS) where famous botanist Edgar T. Wherry (1885–1982) deposited specimens he collected from Avery Island in 1936. Wherry found two species of North American ferns new to Avery Island, the Adiantum pedatum (“northern maidenhair”) and the Diplazium pycnocarpon (“narrow-leaved glade fern”).


Both species occur elsewhere in eastern North America, including Louisiana, but are considered extremely rare throughout the southern part of their range. Their discovery on Avery Island represents the southernmost location for both species in the United States and was a range extension of about 150 miles from the nearest known locality in the Tunica Hills north of St. Francisville, Louisiana. The topography of Tunica is remarkably similar to that of the largest salt domes along the Gulf Coast: Avery Island, Weeks Island, and CÔte Blanche Island. All of these areas are riddled with deep ravines that offer a unique habitat for some of North America’s rarest native flora.
After contacting the PANS herbarium curator, I was able to acquire high-resolution images of the very specimens that Wherry collected on Avery Island. I was eager to see what notes about their discovery might be included on the label data.


Much to my surprise there are two specimens of the Adiantum. Both are mature fronds that were very fertile. This indicates that the species was apparently thriving in this location at the time it was collected. Unfortunately, the collection data is insufficient, and as such the original area where these specimens were found remains a mystery. The single specimen of Diplazium pycnocarpon is equally interesting: it is a rather large plant, though sterile. Wherry clearly indicates on the collection label that he only observed a single plant of this species. Again, the locality data on the label is quite vague: “north facing gully cooled by moving air.” Too vague to determine where he found them. Since all three specimens have the same collection date of September 9, 1936, and similarly vague habitat descriptions, I think it is likely all three came from the same location. It is equally interesting that there are no subsequent records of either species ever being collected again on Avery Island, despite the fact that other botanists are known to have collected on Avery Island in 1938, only two years after Wherry. They did not report either of these plants in their collections.


One of those other botanist who visited Avery Island in 1938 was Donovan S. Correll (1908-1983). He collected a specimen of Diplazium loncophyllum (“lanced leaved glade fern”). At that time it was the first and only record known from North America. It is a tropical species occurring in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. Its occurrence on Avery Island is likely due to Gulf winds or storms that transported the spores. Correll made a single collection of this species that is on deposit in the herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden. Once again, the collection data is quite vague: “deep heavily wooded ravine, south side of Avery Island.” He does indicate that the plant is “rather abundant.” This is the only collection of this species known from Avery Island.


I located a small but thriving population of Diplazium loncophyllum on Weeks Island in the 1970s. Subsequent trips were made to this location many years later, and the plants were still thriving. In the late 1980s I finally had the opportunity to explore CÔte Blanche Island. Much to my delight on that trip I located a single small plant of D. loncophyllum. The specimen resides at the UL Herbarium (LAF).


I have searched Avery Island ravines and gullies for 45 years and have failed to relocate these three species. Nevertheless, I still have hopes of rediscovering these elusive ferns, because there are potentially many of these ravines on the Island yet to explore.