Louisiana Born and Raised

5 Destinations to See Native Plants at Their Best


Photo by Linda Medine, Johanna Stadler pictured. Courtesy of Hilltop Arboretum

It's no secret that Louisiana's natural environment is one of the most diverse, unique, and beautiful on the planet. The species that occur naturally in its watery wetlands, its towering hardwood forests, its rustling prairielands are strange and wild, of every color in the rainbow, awe-inducing in their ingenuity and their delicacy, with names like: PawPaw, Beautyberry, Green Dragon, Carolina Elephant's Foot, and Baby Blue Eyes. 

Here we've selected five destinations in the state that have taken especial care to preserve existing native plantscapes or to foster new ones. From New Orleans to Natchitoches, discover parks and trails and preservation areas rich with species that were here long before us, flourishing wild on some of our region's most beautiful properties. 

Hilltop Arboretum

Photo by Linda Medine, courtesy of Hilltop Arboretum

In a past life, Hilltop’s fourteen acres served as Emory and Annette Smith’s farm—a rural oasis of forest, meadow, and farmland that the couple enjoyed from 1929 to 1988, when Emory donated all of it to Louisiana State University. Today, the site provides one of the region’s most extensive collections of Southern native plantlife, including 150 species of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. 

[Read this story about the Hilltop Master Plan, here.] 

Native Plantscapes: Hilltop’s most defining feature is its Cajun Prairie-inspired Meadow, three acres blossoming with various annual and perennial flowers and grasses. Throughout the year, students from the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, called the “Meadow Keepers,” travel across the state collecting wildflower seeds from other Cajun Prairies, and planting them at Hilltop. 

Best Time of Year to Visit: According to Hilltop Business Manager Amy Hughes, the best time to visit the arboretum is either in the fall, when the meadows are bursting with Swamp Sunflower, Goldenrod, Virginia Crownbeard, Ironweed, and more, or Spring, when the trees reach their aesthetic height. Keep an eye out, in particular, for the Silverbell tree, which only blooms for a single week in the spring. 

Hours: Sunday–Saturday, from dawn to dusk. Free. 

Photo by Linda Medine, courtesy of Hilltop Arboretum

Get involved: Hilltop is currently accepting tax-deductible donations to support the installation of new plant collections and irrigations in the Central Ravine and the Cathedral—an area of the arboretum once distinguished by high canopy trees, which has been affected by the last decade’s many hurricanes. Contributions will also support plantings of native hedgerows around the Arboretum’s perimeters.

Another way to be a part of Hilltop’s continued development is to become a member of the Friends of the Hilltop Arboretum organization, which works in partnership with LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture to preserve, protect, and enhance Hilltop. For a minimum of $35 per year, members gain free admission to over 320 gardens across North America, reduced rates for Hilltop programs and events, admission to the Annual Member Luncheon, a ten percent discount at the annual Plantfest! event, and more. 

[Read this: Five Historic Gardens to Visit This Spring]

Learn more about donations and memberships at lsu.edu/hilltop/support or by calling (225) 767-6916.

Programming and Events:  On April 9–10, Hilltop will host its popular Spring Fling Plant Sale, offering a wide selection of native and adapted trees, shrubs, perennials, vines, ferns, fruits, edibles, and ornamental grasses. 9 am–4 pm on Saturday; Noon–4 pm Sunday. 

Hilltop Arboretum 

11855 Highland Road

Baton Rouge, LA 70810


Moncus Park

Courtesy of Moncus Park

A community-led initiative that’s been in the works for almost twenty years now, the beloved Lafayette “Horse Farm” property officially opened as a full-fledged world-class city park in January 2021. The one hundred-acre property shifts from rolling hills to forested trails and is distinguished by its century-old oak trees reigning in clusters throughout the park. 

[Read this story about Moncus Park, from our March 2020 issue.]

Native Plantscapes: Lovingly conceived to provide an an accessible introduction to the Lafayette area's original natural state, Moncus Park also includes intentionally-curated ecosystems including a wetland pond, horticultural gardens, an iris garden, and over two hundred newly-planted magnolias, oaks, and cypress trees across the property. In the summer of 2021, the Moncus Park team collaborated with the Acadiana Native Plant Project to survey the forests along the back of the park, and counted over ninety native species. Among the trees they encountered are: Manglier, Eastern red cedar, Wax myrtle, Black cherry, and American elm. They discovered Giant ragweed, Carolina elephant’s foot, and Resurrection fern; Carolina coralbead, Frost grape, and Peppervine; Oval leaf sedge, Basket grass, and Meadow garlic. 

Best Time of Year to Visit: Though the park is a wonder at any time of year, the plants listed above are at their best in spring and early summer.

Hours: Sunday–Saturday. The front fifty acres of the park are open from 5 pm–10 pm; Wooded ravines and Cajun Prairie are open from sunrise to sunset. Free. 

Coneflower at Moncus Park. Courtesy of Moncus Park.

Get involved: Totally conceived of and supported by the Lafayette community, Moncus Park depends on dedicated volunteers year-round in terms of maintaining and improving the health of the park. On the third Thursday of every month, from 9 am–noon, volunteers are invited to assist with tasks like spreading mulch, weeding flower beds, and picking up litter in the park. Volunteers can also participate in the park’s “Adopt a Bed” program, in which individuals and organizations take responsibility for weeding and replenishing a dedicated garden bed on a weekly basis. For other volunteer opportunities, you can contact Nicholas Moss at nmoss@moncuspark.org or visit moncuspark.org/volunteer

There are also various dedicated donation opportunities, from supporting the development of Lake Reaux to planting a tree, listed at moncuspark.org/donate. For a more long-term contribution, Moncus Park’s membership program starts at $25 per year, and includes recognition on the Moncus Park website, access to members-only announcements and discounts, and an “It’s My Park” decal. 

Courtesy of Moncus Park

Programming and Events: For nine years, the Lafayette Farmers & Artisans Market has set up under the giant oak tree at today's Moncus Park on Saturday mornings—featuring a lively conglomeration of over fifty local artisans, growers, and musicians from all across the state. Other regular events include Food Truck Fridays, which feature a locally-owned food truck each week; regular fitness classes, including some targeted towards kids; a women’s walking club; cooking classes, and even en plein air French workshops. For a full listing of Moncus Park’s monthly events, visit moncuspark.org/events. 

Moncus Park

2913 Johnston Street

Lafayette, LA 70 70503


New Orleans City Park 

Courtesy of New Orleans City Park

New Orleans City Park is considered one of the largest urban parks in the country, with 1,300 acres of natural oasis and community attractions from a golf course and fishing ponds to the New Orleans Museum of Art and the antique carousel. Within this Crescent City mecca, though, visitors can also find pockets dedicated to the native flora and fauna of Louisiana. 

[Read this story about New Orleans City Park from our August 2019 issue.]

Native Plantscapes: 

Native Gardens: On the South Side of the park, the ten-acre Botanical Garden was originally planted in 1936 as a WPA project and carries on today as an Art Deco ornamental wonderland. Inside, one corner is dedicated entirely to native plantings, featuring a dazzling presentation of native ecosystems ranging from thicket to prairie to pine forest to wetland. Expect to find Swamp Doghobble, Blue-Eyed Grasses, Rattlesnake Master, Texas Coneflower, Louisiana Irises, and a large Southern Magnolia at the center. 

Big Lake Native Plant Trail: City Park’s Big Lake—surrounded by an array of art installations, biking paths, and boating opportunities—also boasts a beautiful walking trail designed to spotlight hundreds of species native to New Orleans, including Prairie Verbena, Blazing Star, Blue Wood Sedge, White Prairie Clover, and many, many more. 

Besthoff Sculpture Garden: The New Orleans Museum of Art’s already-magnificent sculpture garden has benefitted in recent years from the volunteer efforts of the Greater New Orleans Iris Society, who have planted and maintained vibrant beds of Louisiana Irises throughout the garden. 

Hours: Sunday–Saturday. From thirty minutes before official sunrise until thirty minutes after official sunset. Free. 

Courtesy of New Orleans City Park

Programming and Events: Every second Saturday of the month, City Park hosts the Arts Council New Orleans’ Arts Market on the Goldring/Woldenberg Great Lawn, featuring more than thirty Gulf South artists showcasing their handmade work. Also on second Saturdays, find the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra at the Popp Bandstand, featuring classical music performances paired with a different story each month. 

Get involved: Currently the Friends of City Park are hosting volunteers every week as they aim to restore and maintain the native plant beds along the Big Lake Native Plant Trail. Volunteers will assist in weeding, removal of plant debris, mulching, shoveling, and other tasks. Tools, water, and bug spray will be provided; volunteers are asked to bring proof of vaccination or negative COVID test results, a reusable water bottle, and sunscreen. 9 am–11 am on Fridays. 

Inquire about the Big Lake Native Trail Restoration Project and other volunteer opportunities through volunteer@nocp.org

You can also join the Friends of City Park organization, which comes with plenty of exclusive perks to make your support worthwhile. An individual membership of $57 per year (there are also plenty of options for seniors and families) comes with discounts to most of the activities and events that take place in the park year-round and funds the continued growth and maintenance of New Orleans City Park.  Learn more at friendsofcitypark.com

New Orleans City Park 

1 Palm Drive

New Orleans, LA 70124


Briarwood Nature Preserve 

[Read this story about Caroline Dormon and the Briarwood Nature Preserve, from our June 2018 issue.]

The birthplace and home of the groundbreaking naturalist, author, and artist Caroline Dormon—Briarwood Nature Preserve carries on her great legacy by preserving Southern native wildflowers and forest ecosystems. Some have argued that Briarwood possesses the largest collection of native plants in Louisiana—featuring hundreds of flowers, trees, and shrubs collected and planted by Dormon herself.  

Native Plantscapes: Dormon’s sanctuary is cradled beneath native loblolly pines—many estimated to be between 120–300 years old—mixed with other hardwoods, including blossoming dogwoods and other native trees. At the height of spring, the forest is painted in color by blooming mountain laurel, native azaleas, and Louisiana Iris; Virginia bluebell, trillium, and wild cherry. A wildflower meadow features daffodils, shrubs of American olive, and rhododendron in abundance, along with the rare Louisiana Bluestar. And, truly, so much more. 

Hours: Briarwood is open to the pubic by appointment only during the months of March, April, May, October, and November. To schedule a private tour, call (318)578-3379. $5 recommended donation. 

Briarwood Nature Preserve 

216 Caroline Dormon Road

Saline, LA 71070


Louisiana State Arboretum 

Courtesy of the Louisiana State Arboretum

In 1964, Louisiana officially opened and dedicated the first state-supported Arboretum in the United States in Ville Platte, using three hundred acres of land originally part of Chicot State Park. Now expanded to six hundred acres, the Arboretum is recognized as one of the most expansive examples of Louisiana’s ecological diversity—featuring five distinct ecosystems and hundreds of species of wildlife. 

[Read more about the Louisiana State Arboretum’s history in this story from our March 2022 issue.]

Native Plantscapes: Inside the Arboretum, visitors will wander through five distinct habitats: Cypress-Tupelo Swamp, Bottomland Hardwood Forest, Beech-Magnolia Forest, Cajun Prairie, and a Vernal Pool. Each of these hosts a grand diversity of natively-occurring plants, many of which are marked with full descriptions along the pathways. 

Best Time of Year to Visit: According to Arboretum Curator Kim Hollier, the Arboretum is at its showiest during the months of March, April, and November. “The weather is usually nice and you have either spring flowers or fall color going on. I happen to like winter also. You can see the topography really well when the leaves fall off the trees. Summer is very green, but it’s also very hot, and you have to deal with ticks and insects and poison ivy.” 

Courtesy of the Louisiana State Arboretum

Hours: Sunday–Saturday. 9 am–5 pm. Free through old entrance at 1300 Sudie Lawton Lane; $3 through Chicot State Park entrance to the J.D. “Prof” Lafleur Visitor’s Center. 

Events/Programming: The Louisiana State Arboretum offers a robust slate of programming, including Guided Hikes, Bird Hikes, Guided Canoe Tours, and informationals on topics like “Mammals of Louisiana,” “Owls,” and more. Their most up-to-date upcoming events can be found on the Louisiana State Arboretum Facebook page.

Get Involved: The Louisiana State Arboretum’s Friends group, which was awarded 501(c)(3) status in 2008, works to enhance the arboretum through continued development of Arboretum programs and educational initiatives, as well as promotion of the Arboretum throughout the region. Individual memberships are $20; family memberships are $25. More information is available at friendslaarb.org. Volunteer opportunities are also available on occasion. If interested in learning how you can be involved, call the Arboretum at (337) 363-5616. 

Louisiana State Arboretum 

1300 Sudie Lawton Lane

Ville Platte, LA 70586  

Or at 

Chicot State Park 

3469 Chicot Park Road

Ville Platte, LA 70586


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