CRCL volunteers plant more than 700 cypress trees at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

This story was originally posted on the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s Coast Currents blog.

Following Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve’s western border is the long, narrow Bayou Segnette Waterway, an unnaturally-straight man-made canal with an equally unnatural problem: invasion from the Chinese tallow tree.

Chinese tallow is considered a pest in the Louisiana wild.

Chinese tallow is a beautiful ornamental tree that actually has many uses. Originally brought to the United States in the 1700’s as a resource for soap making and other cottage industries, the tree is valued in small numbers. Unfortunately, many areas of Louisiana just have too many of these trees. Jean Lafitte National Park is no exception. Because Chinese tallow spreads so quickly, it is threatening to squeeze out native species like cypress, oak and hickory from the park’s borders. Once-diverse stretches of forest would be dominated by one species… unless something is done about it.

On December 9 and 10, 2011, more than 50 Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) volunteers teamed up with the staff of Jean Lafitte National Park to take the fight to the Chinese tallow, and help restore sections of native cypress forest along the spoil banks of the Bayou Segnette Waterway. With shovels in hand, these volunteers combined to plant more than 700 bald cypress trees in a two-day period.

Kristina Tomko (l.) and Lily Zhou plant a cypress tree along the Bayou Segnette Waterway.

It is hoped that the newly-installed cypress trees will grow and establish a canopy under which the Chinese tallow cannot grow. Prior to the cypress planting, park rangers from Jean Lafitte individually poisoned many mature and growing Chinese tallow trees, allowing the new cypress the opportunity to overtake their territory.

Cypress trees are, of course, valued in Louisiana not only for their cultural worth (it’s the state tree of Louisiana), but for their ability to hold sediment within their extensive and mighty root systems. These new trees will grip the soil along the banks of the Bayou Segnette waterway and not let go. This will strengthen the integrity of the canal and give it a better chance to survive storm surge and erosion.

All new cypress trees were tagged for later research.

Volunteers also installed degradable plastic protection devices around the trunks of the newly planted trees. These plastic barriers prevent nutria, wild hogs and other herbivores from destroying the young cypress. The newly planted cypress were also tagged and measured, so that data could be kept on their rate of growth and survivability. In time, this two day project could leave a centuries-long mark on the landscape of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park.

CRCL would like to thank Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Shell, Entergy Corporation, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana, Restore America’s Estuaries and the dozens of volunteers who made this project a great success.

Day two of planting drew 40 volunteers to the project.