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 Home>News Archive>2011>October>Headline News>

Scientist succeeds with aerial seeding of coastal plants

[Image: Herry and Cassidy]
[Image: Herry and airplane]
[Image: smooth cordgrass]

News Release Distributed 10/06/11

MARSH ISLAND, La. – Herry Utomo, molecular geneticist at the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station, looked over his crop of lush spartina, or smooth cordgrass, with satisfaction.

“Next year it will be full of spartina,” he said.

To develop hardy lines of the marsh plant, Utomo used many of the same techniques in rice variety development.

Utomo developed a cross of smooth cordgrass seed from 15 different parental lines, drawn from 126 different types of spartina collected along the Louisiana coast, and allowed them to cross with each other, resulting in seed from 225 cross combinations.

On April 25, an airplane flew spartina seed across barren ground on the northeast side of the island over newly constructed marshland.

The 10-acre area that was planted is a test being conducted as part of a federally funded 1,159-acre project administered by the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

A total of 3.8 million cubic yards of dredged material was removed from East Cote Blanche Bay to repair hurricane damage on Marsh Island. Levees were built to contain the material.

“The aerial seeding has produced healthy, robust smooth cordgrass vegetation in five months,” Utomo said.

The cordgrass plants are growing densely in some areas, but sparse vegetation is also evident, depending on soil elevation relative to the height of water levels and movement. Some of the plants are already flowering.

Some of the spartina plants showed a browning in the leaves within the center of the plants. Utomo said that’s typical of plants that are showing signs of a lack of nutrients.

In addition to seeding the interior part of the newly constructed marsh, the airplane dropped a swath of seed over the open water side of the containment levee yielding surprising results.

“We see extremely dense cordgrass vegetation with skinny stems on the other side of the levee,” Utomo said. “This is an indication that a lot of seed floated back and landed along the shoreline and ended up growing in a relatively small area. So that’s not bad at all. I wasn’t expecting that much at all.”

The airplane dropped the marsh grass seed in the same way that rice seed can be planted by aircraft.

Utomo plans to return to Marsh Island and evaluate seed-producing quality when the plants are mature in November. Then he will take some selected lines back to the Rice Research Station near Crowley to do further studies for future use to produce more seed for growers who supply coastal restoration efforts.

“What we need to do is improve these lines further just like in rice,” he said.

Utomo said it may be necessary to increase the seeding rate to get more complete stands of the plants. In addition, he said, he has obtained funds from Louisiana Sea Grant to use a plant growth regulator, moisture retaining agent and an oxygenation chemical to give the seeds a boost to germinate and grow. The plant growth regulator would help the plants germinate sooner.

Cassidy LeJeune, biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), said the technique of planting by air has promise as a cheaper alternative to planting by hand. It also would be a good possibility to use in areas of sparse vegetation.

“It looks real promising for a planting technique,” LeJeune said.

Along with the LSU AgCenter and LDWF, partners in the Marsh Island project are the state Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

This planting went better than an attempt in Plaquemines Parish, where an airplane was used to fly seed onto a rebuilt marsh west of the Mississippi River. Few plants emerged afterwards, and Utomo said it’s likely that the plants didn’t flourish as much as in the Marsh Island site because of the sandy soil there and the lack of rainfall.

Bruce Schultz
Last Updated: 10/6/2011 2:57:37 PM

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