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Louisiana Plant Nursery Ideal for Butterfly/Hummingbird Festival--2007

Hummingbird Butterfly Festival Dazzles the Crowds

Parish pitches in to save pitcher plants--2006



by Gary Noel Ross

As NABA’s Director of Butterfly Festivals since 1998, I have had the privilege of assisting almost a dozen different butterfly festivals in the eastern U.S. Each has been unique. Case in point: MIZELL FARMS BUTTERFLY AND HUMMINGBIRD FESTIVAL. The setting for this event is a wholesale/retail nursery specializing in herbs and the propagation of nectar and host plants preferred by butterflies and hummingbirds whose home is the sultry Gulf Coast.

Mizell Farms, Inc. is a 56-acre, three-generation home site located in rural St. Tammany Parish (County) in southeast Louisiana. For decades, this family owned and operated nursery specialized in evergreen perennials such as azaleas, camellias, boxwoods, hollies, etc. and trees However, as butterfly and hummingbird gardening were becoming increasingly popular in the late 1990s, Jim Mizell, the current owner and manager, realized that there were very few wholesale nurseries growing appropriate herbaceous annuals and perennials for the retail trade. Seeing the opportunity, Jim decided to specialize.

Jim targeted both retail nurseries and popular farmers’ markets in nearby New Orleans and Baton Rouge. So successful, the idea of holding a weekend celebration on the grounds of his nursery was soon born. For a trial run, in late September 2001 Jim debuted a “Hummingbird Extravaganza,” and the following weekend, a “Butterfly Extravaganza.” With attendance each weekend over 2,000, Jim concluded that there was sufficient interest to consider annual events.

That he did, but in 2007 the independent festivals were consolidated into a single day (September 8) advertised as a “Butterfly and Hummingbird Extravaganza.” Activities began before sunrise when Linda Beall, a federally authorized master hummingbird bander professionally trained to humanely catch and band hummingbirds for statistical analysis, arrived to set up feeding and trapping stations throughout the gardens. However, most visitors didn’t arrive until nine o’clock for the first scheduled event—the dedication of the new “Mizell Farms Butterfly Flight House.” I was asked to formerly dedicate the 35 x 48-foot netted enclosure stocked with nectar and host plants as well as approximately 200 live butterflies (the insects had been collected on the grounds the previous day). The flight house proved to be a favorite gathering site for visitors of all ages. As such, I used the venue to speak at length about butterfly biology and identification. Within this living “laboratory,” visitors could have a close encounter with butterflies courting, mating, laying eggs, basking, and even securing salts from our perspiration. In addition, caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail, Monarch, Gulf Fritillary and Cloudless Sulphur could be scrutinized as they fed on their hosts. (At the close of the festival, a section of netting was removed, freeing the butterflies.)

Outside, visitors could wander through what Mizell Farms advertises as “the largest butterfly and hummingbird gardens in Louisiana.” Propagation houses, herb greenhouses, and yards featuring an assortment of species in various sized containers showcased the nursery’s offerings. Adjacent to these commercial areas, the Mizells had installed demonstration landscape plots. Here visitors could view both the growth form of mature butterfly/hummingbird plants as well as how each species might be incorporated into a formal home landscape ranging from simple potted patio accents to sizable installations incorporating swimming pool, water garden, and even guest house. For those visitors wishing to experience a more natural habitat such as a pine/oak woodland characteristic of the region, Jim had constructed “nature trails” to crisscross much of his undeveloped acreage. As a bonus, some of these trails opened into small fields ablaze with multicolored zinnias (seeds had been sown earlier in the summer). Family members, friends, local high school students, and volunteers from Master Gardens and local garden clubs were scattered throughout the nursery to assist visitors. As with most educational festivals, representatives from various nature oriented associations and vendors of nature-based arts and crafts were present, too. And when hunger called, a local chef was kept busy cooking and serving jambalaya—a favorite south Louisiana dish.

The festival was not without indoor programming. For this, the Mizells’ guest house was modified into a makeshift auditorium. Throughout the day local specialists addressed such topics as Hummingbird Gardening, Butterfly Gardening, Native Plants, Honey Island Swamp Bird Banding Station, and Digiscoping (digital close-up photography).

In 2002 I began conducting an official NABA “Fourth of July Butterfly Count” during the festival. The number of individual butterflies has ranged between 198 and 754, and the number of species, between 23 and 26. (In 2007, 634 individuals and 24 species were counted, bringing the cumulative number of species to 37.) Always common are: Giant Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Cloudless Sulphur, Gulf Fritillary, Common Buckeye, Monarch, Fiery Skipper, and Ocola Skipper. Other species that frequently show up include: Palamedes Swallowtail, Little Yellow, Sleepy Orange, Pearl Crescent, Variegated Fritillary, Red-spotted Purple, Carolina Satyr, Silver-spotted Skipper, Long-tailed Skipper, and Sachem. However, in 2002—only two days after Tropical Storm Isidore made landfall in south-central Louisiana—two unexpected species showed up: Large Orange Sulphur (1 female) and Great Southern White (2 males, 1 female). Now, whereas the GSW is a resident on Grand Isle (approximately 110 miles directly south of Folsom) and, therefore, could easily have been displaced northward by Isidore’s winds, the LOS is not a Louisiana resident. The most likely explanation for its presence in Folsom is that the single individual was blown several hundreds of miles from either southern Florida or southern Texas. (The female GSW was particularly attracted to the nectar of marigolds; in addition, she deposited about a dozen eggs on nursery stock of cleome and nasturtium, recognized hosts.) Not surprisingly, the festival in 2002 was extra exciting!

And those hummingbirds? In 2007, a total of 54 individuals were banded; all were Ruby-throats.

Mizell Farms Annual Butterfly and Hummingbird Festival is scheduled for September 2008. The nursery, however, is open throughout the year. Visit for details.


Gary Noel Ross, Ph.D. is a retired Professor of Biology (Southern University) living in Baton Rouge, LA. For contact:



Hummingbird Butterfly Festival Dazzles the Crowds

By Deborah Burst

A refreshing chill greeted the early birders this September morn--all eager to get a front row seat at this year’s Hummingbird Butterfly Festival in Folsom. As the morning light peeked through the summer haze, the tiny performers began to take center stage. Like Tinkerbell in Peter Pan, busy little fairies danced around warming up for the main event. An anxious murmur hummed its way through the crowd as binoculars and cameras steadied themselves for the hummingbird’s grand entrance.

The festival found a new home in 2003 at Mizell Farms in Folsom under the guidance of Jim Mizell, owner of Mizell Farms, and Hummingbird Festival creators, Walter and Olga Clifton. Now in its fourth year at the farm, the Hummingbird Butterfly Festival hosted a legion of novice and seasoned performers. The ruby-throated hummingbirds, the most prolific actors of the day, hogged the stage all morning; while their co-stars, the laissez-faire butterflies, sashayed in after the sun warmed up a bit. The ruby mature males won the prize for best dressed--a dashing scarlet vest--while their female counterparts were a bit more conservative adorned with a muted white scarf around their neck and breast. The immature males took a more stylish upbeat look with a spotted red neck tie.

In front of the banding deck, hummingbirds and butterflies both enjoyed a buffet of nectar producing plants along with birding feeders and specially designed cages with remote control doors. The really big stars made their way inside the cages and then to the banding deck where they were given royal treatment by Linda Beall, local hummingbird researcher. Crowds of people gathered to watch the brave little beauties get a pint-sized physical as the bander delicately examined the patient recording critical data and gently applying the banding ring. A centralized data base houses the bird’s flight pattern which can be tracked all over the world. After a tiresome performance, the hummer takes a long drink from a feeder, a short rest in the palm of a fav fan’s hand and flies off to join his friends.

Some of the festival’s co-stars were the many educational tables stationed under the canopy of live oaks. Local landscapers, master gardeners, birding and wildlife experts offered brochures and flyers on how to grow your backyard habitat to attract birds and wildlife. Winding trails of wildflowers throughout the farm brought a parade of photographers eager to capture a portrait of the fluttering flecks of color.

Butterfly expert, Dr. Gary Noel Ross, Ph.D., was the master of ceremonies for the butterfly release held at high noon. Ross also was a guest speaker at this year’s event and Cathie Hutcheson presented a slide show on banding hummingbirds. Mizell Farms is located at 83215 Highway 25 in Folsom, two blocks from the town’s only red light. Give them a call at 985-796-9309 or e-mail at



Parish pitches in to save pitcher plants

Published October 8, 2006

NEW ORLEANS - With bulldozers threatening small carnivores north of New Orleans, volunteers headed to the rescue Saturday.

There wasn't any chance that the targets might escape. The Nature Conservancy and nine volunteers from as far as Baton Rouge, 60 miles away, were out to rescue yellow pitcher plants, pencil-thin tube-shaped plants that use wax and slick liquid to trap the flies, wasps and bees they digest.

The plants are threatened by a population boom in St. Tammany Parish and the disappearance of the woodlands they naturally grow in.

The parish was growing rapidly even before Hurricane Katrina, as its high ground and 850 square miles offered a spacious alternative to New Orleans' more crowded 250 square miles.

In the year since the storm, the parish's population has grown from 220,000 to about 260,000, exceeding its five-year growth estimate in one year. And with the population boom came a need for more housing and more development.

"Although it is good for the economy, it breaks my heart to see acres of pitcher plants being lost when they could be saved in advance of development and planted in conservation areas or used for educational purposes," said Nelwyn McInnis, head of the Nature Conservancy's northshore field office and project manager for Louisiana and Mississippi.

The plants are further threatened in Louisiana by the disappearance of their habitat. The plants grow only in savannas and hillside seepage bogs in the longleaf pine ecosystem. These forests, which once covered 90-million acres of the Southeast, now cover only 3 percent of their original acreage.

On Saturday, volunteers dug up 2,000 of the plants in a half-mile strip of land, McInnis said.

Jim Mizell, who owns the Mizell Farms Nursery, said he would pot the plants and care for them through the winter so they could be replanted in safer areas in late winter or spring.

"We want to give out some of these plants to Scout groups, biology teachers, people who can teach the ecology of the habitat and this very unusual plant," Mizell said.

[Last modified October 8, 2006, 02:20:08]



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