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Louisianian at Large

Stalking the giant salvinia
The giant salvinia of South America is proving to be quite a contradiction –– as its name reveals more about its proliferate abilities than actual appearance.

A tiny floating fern, sold widely throughout the United States as a lovely addition to backyard ponds and fountain gardens, it has the ability to spread so rapidly in the wild that it is now Louisiana’s No. 1 threat to inland lake and waterway survival.

“It’s a terrible plant,” says biologist Gary Tilyou, Louisiana’s Inland Fisheries Division administrator. “It is a floating fern that is only the size of a quarter, but it grows in thick mats that layer up. The most frightening thing about it, though, is it has the ability to double in size within three to five days. We have never seen any other [non-native plant] grow at such a rate.”

Non-native plants have the ability to smother out native plants through unchecked growth. They deplete the water of oxygen necessary for native plant and fish survival and have few if any natural predators.

To combat the giant salvinia’s spread, herbicides are repeatedly sprayed so as to kill layer by layer of the plant.

Currently 15 to 18 Louisiana lakes and waterways have giant salvinia growing in them, and Louisiana is not alone, Tilyou says.

Caddo Lake, which is just west of Shreveport and is shared by Texas, is currently fighting a giant salvinia infestation.

Pete Camp, a resident of Northwest Louisiana’s Lake Bistineau, has posted photos of giant salvinia infestation on the Web site www.LakeBistineau.com. The photos, taken in 2007, show giant salvinia covering the lake water fronting his property like a golfing green for hundreds of feet out from the shoreline.

The amazing thing, Camp says, is that only one year earlier, in 2006, the water fronting his property was clear of any giant salvinia.

Tilyou says Lake Bistineau has a total of 17,000 acres of water. In 2006, 1 acre of giant salvinia was found in Lake Bistineau free-floating near a boat launch. That 1 acre had, within one year, grown to cover more than 7,000 acres of the lake.
“That’s amazing,” Tilyou says.

Despite the treatment of more than 7,000 acres in Lake Bistineau, about 150 acres of giant salvinia remain floating among cypress beds, Tilyou says. “There are some locations where we can’t get to it,” he says. “The fact that it still exists means the problem is far from over.”

Orange Fest defies Katrina
Despite the wounds from Hurricane Katrina, the people of Louisiana’s southernmost parish will gather the first weekend in December to celebrate the 62nd Plaquemines Parish Fair and Orange Festival.

Advertised as a “slice of Louisiana,” Plaquemines was a major exporter of citrus in the early 1900s.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, all groves south of Jesuit Bend were uprooted. They have not returned, leaving the parish with about half of its pre-2005 bounty.

The Dec. 5-7 festival provides Louisiana residents with the opportunity to experience the people and food of this delta lobe where rich deposits of land meet waters brimming with fish, shrimp and oysters. It also provides Louisiana residents with the opportunity to show support to fellow neighbors by simply sharing a good time.

Along with all sorts of orange-related activities and contests, there will be a chance for festival-goers to test their speed at shrimp-peeling and oyster-shucking.

Music will of course be a draw. The Boogie Kings and the Southern Cross Band are the festival’s Saturday night headliners, and on Sunday afternoon, Nashville country music stars the Bellamy Brothers will perform.

Paula Cappiello, festival secretary, says because of Hurricane Katrina devastation, the festival has not been able to return to its Fort Jackson location near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Instead, the festival will be held at the Medal of Honor Park at the end of Barriere Road in Belle Chasse, just a few miles from New Orleans.
Cappiello says a great side trip while visiting the area for the festival would be to take the Belle Chasse ferry across the river and drive south along the east bank of Mississippi River to Pointe A La Hache, the parish seat. From there you can catch another ferry back over the river and travel along Louisiana Highway 23 down to Venice and back up to Belle Chasse.

“If they have time, they should stop and visit Woodland,” she says. “Amazingly, it made it through the hurricane, and we were all so happy about that.”

Woodland, which is located on Louisiana Highway 23 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been the mansion depicted on the label of the Southern Comfort whiskey bottle since the 1930s.

“It is really a beautiful ride,” Cappiello says of her parish’s natural landscape. “There will be citrus stands along the way where you can stop and buy some from local growers. It is someplace people should visit, for until someone sees it for themselves, they just don’t understand.”

For more information, visit www.orangefestival.com

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