Flora of the Wax Lake Delta: One of Louisiana’s best-kept secrets to coastal restoration
By Maggie Yancey, National Wildlife Federation
The Wax Lake Delta, a lush secluded enclave of natural beauty located in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River Basin, is a hunter’s paradise among many wonders most people wouldn’t expect. The delta is known for offering excellent waterfowl hunting, and the open season welcomes more than 1,000 hunters per year to the 40,000-acre wildlife management area.
However, most people aren’t aware that the Wax Lake Delta didn’t always exist. In fact, the Wax Lake Delta was historically an open water basin. The miracle lies in the roughly 18 square miles of newly formed delta while most of Louisiana’s coast has experienced catastrophic land loss. Today, the Wax Lake Delta provides the perfect nesting habitat for a variety of birds and waterfowl.
In 1941, an outlet was constructed to divert approximately one-third of the Atchafalaya River’s discharge to reduce water levels at a nearby port. The Wax Lake Delta is an early stage of a prograding delta, which is a term used for a process of land building that provides ecological succession. The Mississippi River Delta loses the equivalent of a football field of land every hour making the Wax Lake Delta an important example of how to rebuild lost delta resources.
To understand how the delta attracts herons, egrets, ibis and other wading birds, let’s look at five plants that demonstrate the beauty and viability of the Wax Lake Delta.
#1: Floating Flora
A positive signal of a thriving ecosystem is birds. In the background, there are two Roseate Spoonbills feeding on small fish and crustaceans, like shrimp and crawfish. Food sources feed on fish and crawfish that hide in floating plants like the floating fern.
The presence of lotus also indicates conditions that are favorable for water lilies, sedges, reeds and grasses. These species only grow in shallow waters, where their growth clearly indicates water depth. They also make great camouflage for predatory reptiles like alligators.
The next three plant species were found in a wooded area located on a track of land that formed an island, Belle Isle, located in the Atchafalaya Basin.
#3: Jack and the Pulpit
This Jack and the Pulpit was shown in full bloom. Before blooming, there is a spathe on the plant that looks like an old fashioned pulpit. The plant is extremely toxic and is poisonous when consumed.
#4: American Beautyberry Plant
This species of beautyberry is an important food source to more than 40 species of songbirds, such as the American Robin and the Purple Finch.
Along with the southern shield wood fern, there are several species of ferns that were found on Belle Isle. This fern featured in the picture was a unique species that opens up when the leaves receive water.
Taking a look at these unique plants indicate the success of what can be grown on newly formed land and in marsh habitats. These new introductions of unusual plant species are inspiring for coastal restoration efforts. The new growth also gives the opportunity for wildlife to flourish.