Gulf of Mexico
Nicholls State plant farm. Photo by Halle Parker

LA - ‘They can persist:’ Nicholls growing rare species for coastal restoration

Since 2006, Nicholls Farm has become a haven to preserve native trees and other plants that have either disappeared from Louisiana or grow in areas threatened by coastal erosion.

Over the years, the farm has added more grass and tree species that have adapted to thrive in tough conditions on the state’s coast.

In the case of the farm’s sand live oak trees, staff like Gary Fine can collect the acorns produced by the young trees and plop them into soil, continuing to grow the farm’s stock.

The more trees, the more seeds they can harvest and eventually supply businesses to grow on their own and use for coastal restoration projects on barrier islands or in wet marshes.

“This is a long-term investment in producing seeds for the future,” Nicholls Department of Biology chair Quenton Fontenot said.

Currently, the collection has grown to about 15 plant species, and the department is working with the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry to continue increasing 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.”

During restoration projects in the past, companies have tried planting trees that are the same species but come from other states and environments. They lack the genetic makeup needed to succeed.

The plants would grow well for the first year but within four, Fontenot said, “Everything would die.”

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