Species Preservation Project

The long-term strategy of the Species Preservation Project is to establish alliances with like-minded organizations.

Why Preservation Is Necessary

Loss of Habitat, Declining Populations, and Diversity

Early American settlers brought the ability to make drastic changes to the landscape by altering drainage patterns, or by exterminating whole species by commercial hunting, or by devastating native populations with diseases common in Europe for which they had no immunity. Wide-spread agriculture perhaps had the greatest impact: forests were cleared, swamps were drained, and the diversity of animals and plants was diminished, slowly at first, but accelerating with the invention of tractors and mechanical harvesters.

The ancestors of today’s ecology and conservation movements began to see that a part of America’s “soul” and its image of itself was at risk. So came the beginnings of preservation movements to prevent and reverse at least some of the destruction that our settlement of America had caused.

When the early French explorers, beginning with LaSalle in 1687, came down the Mississippi River and into coastal Louisiana in springtime, they saw expanses of color as far as the eyes could see. Today, these irises are threatened by hurricanes, land erosion and subsidence, and especially by agriculture and land development.

SLI can be both a gardening club which honors its roots, as well as today a preservation movement connected to the broad range of today’s environmentalists, naturalists, conservationists, and those seeking to mitigate the impacts of wetlands loss and climate change.

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Species Diversity and Geographical Spread, from IL to LA to FL

The Louisiana irises include colors from white to blue, to red to yellow, and everywhere in between, and vary in bloom form, height, and bloom period.  Even within an individual species, there is substantial color variation. Iris hexagona, the first to be named (Walter, 1788), is typically blue, but varies from rare white to very rare purplish-pink.  Iris fulva (Ker Gawler, 1812) is typically copper-colored, but varies from red to orange to lemon yellow to burgundy-purple.  The short and late-blooming Iris brevicaulis (Rafinesque, 1817), is most often light to dark blue, but is occasionally white, and a very rare pink.  The early-blooming and tall Iris giganticaerulea (Small, 1929) also ranges from dark to light blue to white.  The exceedingly rare and endangered Iris nelsonii (Randolph, 1966), is typically red, but varies from golden yellow to orange to burgundy-red. One or more species is native in 17 states and the province of Ontario, from Texas to Florida, to South Carolina, up the Mississippi River delta through Arkansas,

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A Full History of SLI's Species Conservation Efforts

The Species Preservation Project’s Mission and Approach

Mission Statement for the Preservation of Louisiana Irises

  • To collect and preserve the genetic diversity in geographic origin, habitat, color, and form of each of the five native species in private collections, in perpetuity
  • To establish colonies in the wild in protected reserves, arboreta or botanic gardens, available for public view, in every state in which they were once native

Role of Preservation Stewards

The Preservation Stewards are individually responsible to:

  • maintain one or more pots or clumps of each variant, indefinitely, as long as they are able
  • to donate the intact collection to a replacement Steward, when no longer able
  • to share excess rhizomes with other Stewards who do not yet have that variant
  • to obtain additional specimens in their region to increase the size and geographic diversity of the collection
  • to annually photograph each specimen during bloom season to verify that each Steward has the correct identification
  • has the correct identification to annually conduct an inventory of their collection to identify gaps, and provide surplus to other Stewards, as well as identify variants which are not sufficiently vigorous for re-colonization endeavors
  • to provide starting rhizomes for further propagation to establish colonies in protected reserves available to naturalists and the public
  • To establish colonies in the wild in protected reserves, arboreta or botanic gardens, available for public view, in every state in which they were once native

The Future of Our Species Preservation Project

The beginnings of the collection included only irises from the state of Louisiana, so there are more variants, and diversity, from Louisiana than from any of the other states. Today’s collection includes 75 variants from other states. We expect further additions from the “hybrid swarm” of the Brazos River Valley in Texas, and the Florida hexagona to add to these totals.

In the near future, a species preservation wiki will be established to showcase these irises on our website.