Hancock County

$60,000 in wild irises disappeared from Coast highway. Here’s why.

Before and after photos show the wild irises along Mississippi 603. The photo on the left was taken Nov. 6, and the one on the right Nov. 8, when students from CLIMB CDC worked to maintain the beds.
Before and after photos show the wild irises along Mississippi 603. The photo on the left was taken Nov. 6, and the one on the right Nov. 8, when students from CLIMB CDC worked to maintain the beds. Courtesy of Katharine Truett Ohman

Beautification supporters nearly three years ago painstakingly planted $60,000 in wild irises in medians on seven sections of a state highway in a conservation landscaping project.

The flowers on Mississippi 603 apparently were mowed down in late September before Cruisin’ The Coast. Their disappearance left many to wonder what happened and why, and drew criticism on social media from Bay St. Louis and Waveland residents.

The mostly dark-blue, purplish wildflowers, which grow to 4 or 5 feet tall and have spear-like leaves, were cut down by a county work crew, Mayor Mike Favre confirmed Friday.

“They were cut down last year and they came back and looked good this year,” Favre said. “They will come back as good as ever. So that’s where we’re at.”

The city paid nothing for the plants, he said.

Weeds had become a problem, horticulturist Christian Stephenson explained.

“Essentially, cutting them is a method for weeding them,” said Stephenson, who works for the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Bay St. Louis.

But will they re-grow?

“These plants grow from bulbs,” Stephenson said. “They’re designed to die and grow back. They are absolutely going to re-grow. They’re not going anywhere.”

The irises were planted from rhizomes, which are not true bulbs, but stems that grow sideways instead of up.

Stephenson called the mayor Friday after receiving complaints about the flowers being mowed down. He said he plans to speak to the Bay Saint Louis, Waveland and Hancock County beautification departments to find volunteers to maintain the plants.

Bay resident Kathleen Johnson said she was “flabbergasted” to see the flowers gone. She said she has enjoyed looking at them as she drives along the highway.

“I’ve been interested in highway beautification since Lady Bird Johnson made it her pet project,” Johnson said of the former First Lady, who made highway beautification her pet project in the 1960s.

Former Councilman Lonnie Falgout, in a Facebook post, said the Wild Iris Project planting was completed while he represented Ward 6. His term ended in 2017.

“Inexcusable for them to be cut down,” wrote Falgout.

A beautification committee led by Katharine Truett Ohman obtained the rhizomes from two groups that grow Louisiana irises, which have conservation benefits.

“Conservation landscaping allows potential pollutants from water runoff to be taken up by plants, preventing them from entering the water cycle or running into the Gulf of Mexico,” Stephenson said.

The irises were provided in 2015 by the Louisiana Iris Gardens in Tully, New York, and Bois d’Arc Gardens of Schriever, Louisiana.

They were planted in 15-foot by 36-foot areas of the highway in medians north and south of Bayou LaCroix.

Students from CLIMB CDC in Gulfport and AmeriCorps in Waveland were working in the flower beds on Thursday.

Robin Fitzgerald, 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

  Comments