The weather is better in… New Orleans!

May is a great time of year to visit New Orleans.  There aren’t as many people visiting, because Mardi Gras is over.  Then again, Mardi Gras is never over in New Orleans.  It just takes short pauses for the weekdays.  The weather is still nice because summer hasn’t started yet.  Coming from the milder climate of the Pacific Northwest, I don’t know if we could have taken the heat of a southern summer so well.  And most importantly, it’s when our schedules allowed for a visit!

There were palms everywhere downtown.

Jackson Square was centered around a very busy part of the French Quarter.  St Louis Cathedral reminded me of the castle in Disneyland and the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

Of course I found the banana patch just as interesting at the architecture.  Some poor tourist had lost their hat, but the banana was finding relief from the sun.  How thoughtful.

A big draw for me was the climate.  It is nearly as close as you can get to tropical while staying out of Florida.  It’s almost cheating when you go that far.  That, and we don’t have anyone to visit in Florida.  The neighborhoods that we experienced were nothing short of unique.  The plants that grew IN THE GROUND were almost unreal.  Jelly palms? Yes.  Philodendrons? Yes, and I’m not even talking about the cultivar ‘Hope’, the one that all of us northern folks naively assume we can keep alive outside (me included). Citrus? Absolutely. Heliconia? For sure. Brugmansia? They don’t even look like they die back in the winter.

The house above had some sort of cactus monster (Echinocereus?) leaning on the carport.  The giant yuccas towering over the chain link fence had trunks that impressed even my wife.  Is that a Washingtonia palm I see in the back?  I think jasmine is a weed in NOLA too.  It grows everywhere and covers everything.  It even masks the scent of garbage in the French Quarter if there’s a slight breeze.  Yeah, it’s that strong.  One morning as we sat at Cafe Du Monde, enjoying beignets and chicory coffee, I couldn’t help but notice how an incredibly large Live Oak had been completely covered by jasmine.  It happened to be blooming, which is probably why I noticed it.

It reminds me of English ivy in the northwest, except for the fact that it blooms and smells good.

What trip would be complete without a visit to a nursery?  I stopped by Harold’s Plants, since it was nearby.  I had to see what they might offer in a climate like this.  I found another visitor in the tree section, but I think it was looking for food instead of plants.

Does anyone notice what this next tree is?  Offered at $129, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I couldn’t have gotten a picture if I’d stepped back, since there were too many plants.  It would have gotten lost in the jungle.  It’s a Chinese parasol tree!  Apparently invasive species cost money too.

We did take a boat tour of the Honey Island Swamp.  It is supposedly the most pristine swamp in the US.  I don’t have much experience in the swamp, but it seemed legitimately swampy.  There were alligators, snakes,  feral hogs, raccoons, herons and floating/sinking houses.

I’m not sure if these elephant ear (Colocasia? Alocasia?) clumps were of a native species or not, but they sure looked nice.  They definitely were not the native arrow-root that the boat captain pointed out.

The only snake that we saw didn’t look like an exotic invader.  I was happy.

The obligatory gator photo.  I won’t share the one where we’re holding one.

The feral pigs, along with everything else in the swamp, loved marshmallows.  They came out to the water’s edge as soon as they heard the boat’s engine.

The New Orleans botanical garden was one of our last stops.  I particularly enjoyed the succulent greenhouse.  Unfortunately my iPhone’s synch options caused me to erase several pictures of it.  These are the surviving photos.  There was something so neat and orderly about the alternating spikes and leaves of this plant.  There were no labels on the plants, which I found very frustrating.

Probably a Deuterocohnia brevifolia (thanks for the ID Mr Subjunctive).

Some of the more impressive specimens in the garden were the Agave americanas.  All of them were sporting flower spikes except for the variegated one, I believe.  If only I had been there a bit later!  I’m sure the ultimate height of the spikes were even higher.  The leaves themselves were a good 6 feet high.

Even though we had just a few days in New Orleans, we managed to squeeze in quite a bit of sightseeing.  I also managed to collect some seeds of cannas and callistemon!  I hope these photos inspire you to deny your growing zone a little bit.  They will for me!

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