The landscape image for Louisiana in many people's minds, is often that of a swamp or marsh so it usually comes as a surprise to many people that there is (or more correctly, was) a well developed prairie (some estimates up to 2.5 million acres) in Louisiana et al. Much of southwestern Louisiana inland from the marsh, south of the pine savannah region, and between the Atchafalaya and Sabine rivers was historically a distinct grassland. Early names given to the region include Attakapas Country and the Great Southwestern Prairie but a more fitting name is Cajun Prairie since most of the early European settlers were Cajuns. This prairie was developed in an area that receives more than 50 inches of rainfall per year; forests usually develop in areas with more than 30 inches of rainfall per year. Plausible explanations for the prairie development in this area include: (1) a hard clay pan layer 12-15 inches below the soil surface that would retard the growth of tree roots; (2) fires that would kill woody plants but not harm the herbaceous perennials including grasses; (3) grazing animals including bison that once roamed this area; (4) winds that would uproot trees especially during heavy rains that might accompany a hurricane; and (5) lack of the proper mycorrhize for the development of tree to root relationships.
Today, most of the prairie has been destroyed and replaced by cultivated crops, in particular rice. A few remnant prairies remain mostly along railroad rights-of-way. Most of these remnants were never tilled or have not been tilled since the railroad acquired the land ca 150 years ago. The estimated total area of intact Cajun Prairie today is 100 acres.
A project to restore a ten acre plot of Cajun Prairie began in 1988 in Eunice, Louisiana at the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and East Magnolia. Volunteers used only local seeds and plugs collected from nearby remnants so this prairie is as Cajun as can be.
Today, this site is considered the best example of Cajun Prairie and one of the best examples of prairie restoration in the area. From the grasses like big blue stem or switch grass to forbs like blazing stars, hairy sunflowers, or yellow false indigo, you will realize that this is a well established and flourishing prairie.
When you visit the Eunice Cajun Prairie Site, you can view this restored ecosystem from paved trails. Signs along the trails will help you identify some of the 300 plus species of native Cajun Prairie species that call this ten acre site their home. Throughout the year, you will find plants in flower but especially from March to October. A paved parking lot and a covered shelter for picnics make the site great for adults and school groups with lesson plans available on request.
In February 1993, the title to a 334 acre FmHa easement tract was transferred to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. This tract is located in Evangeline Parish between Eunice and Mamou, Louisiana. Vickie Grafe, manager of the Lacassine Wildlife Refuge, worked with a number of individuals and organizations in developing a plan for prairie restoration at the site. The site was an abandoned agricultural area that was now covered with thousands of Chinese Tallow Trees (Sapium sebiferum). The Tallow Trees were uprooted with bull dozers, wind rowed, and burned. The area was disked and the levees removed.
In January 1995, volunteers and Lacassine Wildlife personnel transplanted several truck loads of Cajun Prairie plants onto the site. The Cajun Prairie plants were obtained from a nearby remnant strip. A centrally located 90 acre portion of the tract was redisked in the spring of 1995. Using an airplane, seeds were sown on the 90 acres on May 2 and 9. The seeds included 270 lbs of Eastern Gamma Grass (Tripsacum dactyloides), 61 lbs of Aldous Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), 171 lbs of Kaw Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), 109 lbs of Cheyenne Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), and 54 lbs of Alamo Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Seeds were collected from remnants and sown into parts of the 90 acre plot in January 1996.
In August 1998, seeds that were harvested from Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR in Texas were spread across the remaining acreage (244 acres). Also, in 1998 an experiment was begun to test the best time of year to plant seeds. Seeds were harvested from remnants and divided into four equal lots. One lot was planted in December 1998, February 1999, and May 1999 with two lots being planted in February on two different sites. The results indicate that December was slightly better than February and both December and February were much better than May. In the dormant seasons of 1998-99, 1999-2000, and 2000-2001, transplants were dug from remnants and transplanted into the Duralde prairie. In November 2000, seeds of 50 selected Cajun Prairie forbs were planted in monocultural plots; these seeds came from different remnants and are being planted together to test for increased seed production.