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As a graduate student at Texas A&M, it was brought to my attention on more than one occasion about the incredible preservation work of Caroline Dorman from Louisiana. Though I never knew her, I do know she made a lasting contribution in the world of native flowers that is still recognized today. Her work comes to life when you visit the Caroline Dorman Nature Preserve in Saline, La.

I can assure you she would be excited to know what is happening in the world of Louisiana irises at seven locations across the country. The partnership will be defined as the Louisiana Iris Species Preservation Project. Caroline Dorman knew this day would come as did Dr. John K. Small from the New York Botanical Garden who studied Louisiana irises intensely in the 1920-30s. Lastly, so did Marie Caillet, perhaps the most famous of Louisiana iris heroes. They are no longer with us, but under the leadership of Charles Perilloux in Baton Rouge, and with the sponsorship of the Society of Louisiana Irises an enviable team has been assembled.

You may be thinking,"Aren’t we really talking about a Louisiana issue?" The answer is an unequivocal no. There are five species sometimes called ‘The Louisianans’ they are Iris brevicaulis, Iris fulva, Iris giganticaerulea, Iris hexagona, and Iris nelsonii. Iris brevicaulis and I. fulva are native along the Mississippi north to Ohio and as far east as West Point, Ga. Iris hexagona which was believed to be in Louisiana may now be only in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Even in Georgia, there is concern over the surviving habitat. They are all closely related and will interbreed with each other but no other species.

The native habitat is facing pressures and losses from both manmade and natural issues like saltwater intrusions from hurricanes. By assembling collections of the native species in different locations they can be saved, grown and propagated for later efforts at redistribution and habitat restoration.

Louisiana irises seem to thrive in Savannah’s coastal climate, the newest public addition to the preservation project. The Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens over the last four years has been quietly building one of the largest collections of Louisiana irises in the country. It is an ideal location where they can be not only watched over, but thousands of visitors can see and experience their beauty and graceful habit.

The Louisiana Iris Species Preservation Project at the garden is being developed and planted as we speak. The next couple of weeks, however, hold great opportunity, as thousands of Louisiana irises will be in full bloom creating a spectacle of nature that most coastal gardeners have never seen. It will be a Kodak moment for all nature photographers.

The seven stewards of the native species as they will be called, are:

— Charles Perilloux, Baton Rouge, La. (Private)

— Jim Leonard, Lafayette, La. (Private but will be contributed for a new display in the future City Park)

— Kent Benton, Livingston, La. (Private)

— Mark Schexnayder and Patrick O’Connor, City Park, New Orleans, La.

— Jody Nolin, Ohio (Private)

— Stan Gray, Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, Savannah, Ga.

— Brian Shamblin, Cleveland, Tenn. (Private)

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