Posted by: Alison O’Connor, Larimer County Extension
I’m in New Orleans for the American Society of Horticultural Science annual meeting. First of all, it’s hot. Like really hot. I described it as being hugged by a furnace. The heat index is well north of 100 degrees. Second of all, for a first-time visitor, New Orleans is an incredible place. History, fun and great food! What more can you ask for!?
Today I toured the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in conjunction with a tour of the historic Garden District. The cemetery is the oldest in the city of New Orleans and dates back to 1832. It is a municipal cemetery and doesn’t have a religious affiliation, so anyone could be buried there. I loved what the tour guide, Sarah, said about visiting cemeteries—“It’s where the history is.” I couldn’t agree more if you remember my other blog about the cemetery in New Jersey last fall.
|The oldest cemetery in New Orleans, dating back to 1832.|
|Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (New Orleans, Louisiana)|
The magnolias, which were replanted in the 1970s, were a welcome relief from the sun. There was a lot of “hardscape” in the cemetery, which added to the heat index.
What is most fascinating is that the people of New Orleans are buried in a very different way than what we typically experience in the west…and often with their entire family. In the same tomb. I’m not sure about you, but that’s a whole lot of "family time" for everlasting eternity.
The tombs are located above ground—the highest point in the cemetery is nine feet above sea level. Burying the dead above ground is out of necessity—caskets would float to the surface after being buried. (Yikes!) The tombs are constructed from various stone, but the most basic are brick covered in plaster. Many of the name plates on the tomb entrance were marble.
The tombs have two levels. The upper level is where the most recently deceased is placed (in a simple casket). The bottom level is where the deceased were placed after their one year period on the top floor. So you have an above-ground tomb, constructed of brick, in New Orleans. Yes, it gets hot and as a result, creates rapid decomposition of the body. After a year, the bones are placed in a muslin bag (where the term “bag of bones” comes from) and placed below. The next body goes to the upper shelf.
With this process, dozens of family members can be buried together. There were people, from the same family, buried in the 1800s and as recently as a couple years ago.
One of the most precious things on many of these tombs are the resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides), aptly named for their growth habit. These true ferns, which are epiphytic, can lose up to 97% of water and still live. With the smallest addition of water, the ferns spring back to life. Native to Africa and parts of the Americas, some resurrection ferns have lain dormant for over 100 years. These ferns take nutrients from the air and any precipitation that falls to live and grow. Talk about a tough plant! These ferns were tucked in various pockets on the tombs, ground and on trees in the cemetery. I even saw some growing on a brick wall in a parking lot.
Following the cemetery, we took a stroll around the Garden District to ooh and awe at the magnificent homes. As a girl from the Midwest, seeing houseplants (like cast iron plant, cycad palm and bird of paradise) planted as landscape shrubs still fascinates me. And the best part—I haven’t seen one juniper since my arrival!
The live oaks are spectacular. There are some live oaks in the southern part of Louisiana that are hundreds of years old. They probably aren’t the best street tree, since their roots eat sidewalks and heave the concrete, but are incredibly attractive.
Lawns for the most part, are not in front of many homes. Disease (brown patch!) and insects (chinch bugs!) tend to wipe out the hardiest of turfgrass, though a select few homes had bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass and centipedegrass.
And one home had a wrought iron fence that brought me back to my days at Iowa State. This home, where the lady of home was from Iowa, had a corn fence, painted to authentic green. Our tour guide informed us that the fence needs to be painted every two years, or it would essentially disintegrate due to the weather.
|The house is for sale! For a cool $6.5 million, you could own this fence.|
For you Peyton Manning fans, he grew up in New Orleans and this is his childhood home. His father, Archie, still lives here.
|Eli Manning grew up here, too.|
Is it time to eat again? I’m hankering for another po’boy!