Introduction to Northlake Nature Center
GPS Coordinates: 30.3510° N, 90.0364° W
At 9am Saturday, March 9, 2019 the temperature at the Northlake Nature Center was 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and cloudy. The Northlake Nature Center is located in Mandeville, Louisiana along Highway 190 East on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain.
The Center offers visitors the opportunity to experience three different ecosystems: hardwood forest, pine-hardwood forest and pond-swamp. The ponds in the cypress swamp area are the result of beaver dams and a beaver lodge is visible from one of the centers raised boardwalks. Interpretive signs and outdoor classrooms enhance the visitors experience. Below are several images of items of interest during our visit. 
The 5 Louisiana Iris species
Drosera, aka Sundew, carnivorous plant
Marker for very large (old) Muscadine vine
Apple Snails Eggs (invasive species)
Interesting factoid: What qualified as “nature”?
I personally like Oscar Wilde’s broad definition:
“a place where birds fly around uncooked.”
Dew Berries - Rubus sp.
Dewberries are abundant at Northlake Nature Center. The dewberries are a group of species in the genus Rubus, closely related to blackberries. They are small trailing (rather than upright or high-arching) brambles with aggregate fruits, reminiscent of the raspberry, but are usually purple to black instead of red. Unlike many other Rubus species, dewberries are dioecious, having separate male and female plants. While both plants produce flowers, one plant has the male reproductive parts and the other plant has the female parts. Both are needed for fruit production. Many, tiny thorns on the stems could make for a painful encounter!
ALTERNATE COMMON NAME: Blackberry
LEAVES: alternate compound
FLOWER: white, 1 inch diameter, one per peduncle (blackberries have many flowers per cluster), 5 petals, clawed; found on floricanes (2-year-old canes)
FRUIT: berries, black, juicy: 1.5 to 2 cm long — dewberries: recepticle soft, pulls off with fruit
USES: wildlife: berries eaten by many birds (song, quail, turkey); mammals: foliage browsed by deer and rabbits; cover; human: berries can be eaten 
Reflection Eugene Brill
I find plant identification very challenging – especially using a Dichotomous Key. Plant identification is the process of matching a specimen plant to a known taxon (in biology, a taxon is a group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms seen by taxonomists to form a unit.) It uses various methods, most commonly dichotomous keys. Maybe it’s my reluctance to learn scientific names. During the Master Gardener educational program, I found the LSU instructors somewhat intimidating when, in a very casual way, they would refer to monkey grass as Ophiopogon japonicus… to me it will always be just monkey grass…
Then very casually, as part of plant ID, they would do a comparison of certain characteristics and assign a particular plant to a known taxonomic group, ultimately arriving at a species name.
During a ‘previous life’, my wife and I owned 10 acres of farmland in Southern California where we grew Hass avocados and cut flowers commercially. Managing the avocado grove was relatively easy, the 300 trees were about 15-20 years old and well established, and on an underground sprinkler irrigation system. A local packing house took care of the harvesting, sorting, packing and shipping. The flowers were a different story. The flowers we grew are called Protea… in the Proteaceae family. This is also the national flower of South Africa and they thrive in Mediterranean climates with well-draining soil – conditions found in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Greece, Portugal, Spain, as well as in Chile, Hawaii and Southern California.
In order to run a successful business, I had to quickly become a ‘Protea Expert’ to be taken seriously by the industry. I had to embark on a crash-course in botany, horticulture, propagation, species identification; and the business of selling seed, rooted cuttings and flower bouquets – wholesale, retail and online. In 2010, we had a successful exit, and sold the business to a local nursery; the land, nurseries, avo grove, flower fields and our beloved home.
The reason I mention this episode in my life, is to illustrate that determination, dedication and passion can turn anyone into a ‘so-called expert’ – without a Dichotomous Key ?.
So, I had to go back to my middle school days to remember the plant classification system:
(Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species)
The plant groups of primary interest to gardeners are ferns (not seed producing); gymnosperms (no flowers, seed not produced in fruit – ‘naked seeds’ i.e. pines & cypresses) and angiosperms or flowering plants (seeds produced in fruit). Plants are further divided into two classes: monocots and dicots. Monocots include plants such as grasses, palms, lilies and irises. Flower parts generally occur in multiples of three. The veins of the leaves are oriented parallel to one another. Dicots include most trees, shrubs, vegetables and commonly used annuals. Flower parts are generally in multiples of four or five. The veins in dicot leaves tend to be arranged in a netted pattern.
I use several reference books, apps and websites to classify and identify plants. I can quickly look up topics like:
- Tender or Hardy
Vegetative Plant Parts
- Taproot System
- Fibrous Root System
- Vascular Tissue
- Leaf Venation
- Leaf Shapes
- Leaf Arrangement
Sexual Plant Parts
- Types of Flowers
- Pistillate (female)
- Staminate (male)
- Seeds and Fruits
- Simple Fruit
- Aggregate Fruit
- Multiple Fruits
- Seed Coat
Environmental Factors Affecting Plant Growth
- Light Quality
- Light Quantity
- Short-day Plants
- Long-day Plants
- Day-neutral Plants
- Thermo Period
- Chilling Hours
Helpful Tip: When doing an Internet Search to identify a plant, looking for symptoms or signs of disease, or any other searchable characteristic, add your local university or Ag Center to you search query. That way, you’ll get to a local resource. i.e. try searching for: “plant identification LSU”
I was super impressed by Dr. Chris Reid during our visit at the Northlake Nature Center. Not only did he know all the botanical names, he could also spell them! I have a real interest in pressing flowers and plant specimens, he shared several valuable tips. The same goes for Rue McNeill, and I really connected with her. She’s extremely knowledgeable and passionate, I love that. And, that’s not taking anything away from Chris, I believe his students are extremely lucky to have him as a professor. The most interesting activity of the day has to be the time we spent with Mr. Fred Matting and his snakes. What a character, and so informative and approachable. He embodies the definition of an ‘Environmental Educator’.  I wish he was my grandfather…
About the Author
Eugene Brill does not hold a PhD in Environmental Science, Botany or another scientific field. He earned an MBA in business/marketing and is a mentor to startup entrepreneurs… but he’s a dedicated Wannabe Naturalist, an avid gardener and an amateur nature photographer. He does not ‘speak’ in taxonomic groupings, species and genera; but can communicate clearly with ‘Joe Public’ in language everyone understands. Eugene is constantly improving his ability to translate science into plain English. He loves to share knowledge, believe that Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) is real, agrees that ‘forest bathing’ (fully clothed, off course… ?) makes us happier, healthier and more creative; and he subscribes to the teachings of Edward O. Wilson and the Biophilia Hypothesis.
Eugene is currently working on a Theory of Change addressing the problem that organizations, corporations and investors are not fully aware of all the benefits of funding Ecosystem and Environmental Restoration projects and/or Climate Tech ventures. The desired outcome is to present a Value Proposition to Company Boards, Organizations & Angel Investors highlighting the opportunities and importance of investing in the environment and climate change tech.