WILD IRISES GET MOWED

The Sun Herald - - Front Page - BY ROBIN FITZGER­ALD rfitzger­ald@sun­her­ald.com Robin Fitzger­ald, 228-896-2307, @robin­crime­news

Mostly dark-blue, pur­plish flow­ers on Mis­sis­sippi 603 are gone and peo­ple want an­swers.

BAY ST. LOUIS

Beau­ti­fi­ca­tion sup­port­ers nearly three years ago painstak­ingly planted $60,000 in wild irises in me­di­ans on seven sec­tions of a state high­way in a con­ser­va­tion land­scap­ing project.

This week the flow­ers on Mis­sis­sippi 603 were mowed down, draw­ing crit­i­cism on so­cial me­dia from Bay St. Louis and Wave­land res­i­dents.

The mostly dark-blue, pur­plish wild­flow­ers, which grow to 4 or 5 feet tall and have spear-like leaves, were cut down by a county work crew, Mayor Mike Favre con­firmed Fri­day.

“They were cut down last year and they came back and looked good this year,” Favre said. “They will come back as good as ever. So that’s where we’re at.”

The cost of the flow­ers came from a grant that in­volved no money from the city, he said.

Weeds had be­come a prob­lem, hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Chris­tian Stephen­son ex­plained.

“Essen­tially, cut­ting them is a method for weed­ing them,” said Stephen­son, who works for the Mis­sis­sippi State Uni­ver­sity Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice in Bay St. Louis.

But will they re-grow? “Th­ese plants grow from bulbs,” Stephen­son said. “They’re de­signed to die and grow back. They are ab­so­lutely go­ing to re-grow. They’re not go­ing any­where.”

Stephen­son called the mayor Fri­day af­ter re­ceiv­ing com­plaints about the flow­ers be­ing mowed down. He said he plans to speak to the Bay Saint Louis, Wave­land and Han­cock County beau­ti­fi­ca­tion de­part­ments to find vol­un­teers to main­tain the plants.

Bay res­i­dent Kath­leen John­son said she was “flab­ber­gasted” to see the flow­ers gone. She said she has en­joyed look­ing at them as she drives along the high­way.

“I’ve been in­ter­ested in high­way beau­ti­fi­ca­tion since Lady Bird John­son made it her pet project,” John­son said of the for­mer First Lady, who made high­way beau­ti­fi­ca­tion her pet project in the 1960s.

For­mer Coun­cil­man Lon­nie Fal­gout, in a Face­book post, said the Wild Iris Project plant­ing was com­pleted while he rep­re­sented Ward 6. His term ended in 2017.

“In­ex­cus­able for them to be cut down,” wrote Fal­gout.

A beau­ti­fi­ca­tion com­mit­tee led by Katharine Truett Ohman ob­tained a grant to plant the flow­ers, which have con­ser­va­tion ben­e­fits.

“Con­ser­va­tion land­scap­ing al­lows po­ten­tial pol­lu­tants from wa­ter runoff to be taken up by plants, pre­vent­ing them from en­ter­ing the wa­ter cy­cle or run­ning into the Gulf of Mex­ico,” Stephen­son said.

The irises were pro­vided in 2015 by the Louisiana Iris Gar­dens in Tully, New York, and Bois d’Arc Gar­dens of Schriever, Louisiana.

They were planted in 15-foot by 36-foot ar­eas of the high­way in me­di­ans north and south of Bayou LaCroix.

Stu­dents from CLIMB CDC in Gulf­port and Amer­iCorps in Wave­land were work­ing in the flower beds on Thurs­day.

Cour­tesy of Katharine Truett Ohman

Th­ese wild­flow­ers were planted in me­di­ans on Mis­sis­sippi 603 through the Wild Iris Project by a group of peo­ple who sup­port beau­ti­fi­ca­tion and con­ser­va­tion land­scap­ing.

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