THIBODAUX, La. (AP) — Faculty and students at a Louisiana university are growing plants that thrive in tough coastal conditions to help restore the state’s dwindling coast.
“This is a long-term investment in producing seeds for the future,” Nicholls State University biology chair Quenton Fontenot told The Daily Comet.
He said some past restoration projects used plants from different environments — and even species also native to Louisiana would die within four years.
Nicholls Farm, south of the main campus, is now growing about 15 species of coastal plants and is working with the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry to increase that number.
“The importance of that is, those plants we have there, they survived through drought periods, they survived through wet periods, we know that they can survive in south Louisiana,” said Fontenot. “They can persist.”
Eventually they hope to have enough to supply restoration projects on barrier islands or marshes and businesses that can grow the plants.
The program began as a partnership with the National Resources Conservation Service, but that money ran out a few years ago.
“We had to scale back everything and the focus shifted to maintaining,” said Fontenot.
The plants include sand live oaks, a species that can survive salt and drought better than the live oaks most common around much of the South. Sand live oaks are smaller, scrubbier, and are generally found in sandy soil such as beaches, barrier island and coastal ridges, Fontenot told The Associated Press.
He said the difference easiest to see is that sand live oak leaves curl in toward the bottom, while live oak leaves are flatter.
The sand live oaks at Nicholls State are descendants of a tree at Gulf Shores, Alabama, Fontenot said.
“They used to be fairly common along Louisiana’s coast but for some reason they disappeared,” he said.