EUNICE, LA (WVUE) - Imagine a vast expanse of tall grasses and wildflowers stretching as far as the eye can see. In the late 1800s, Louisiana's 2.5-million-acre Cajun prairie provided a feast for roaming bison and cattle. Today, this 10-acre patch of native plants, and an acre-and-a-half roadside garden are nearly all that's left.
"It was plowed under, but that's true of all the prairies because these grasses make this tremendous soil," said Malcolm Vidrine. "And that topsoil is the nature of the bread basket.
Vidrine is a retired biology teacher at LSU in Eunice, a town that was built on the Cajun prairie more than a century ago. Vidrine has turned his yard into a prairie garden.
Mcnamara: "What did your field look like before you began turning it into a prairie, and how close to a prairie is it now?"
Vidrine: "Well my field looked just like my neighbor's yard, which is mowed, so 20 years ago when I started. And the way prairies are, as far as we can tell from restoration is the best you can do is a 25 percent restoration at present.
Vidrine said each square meter of the original Cajun prairie contained 40 different plants. The best he has been able to do in his yard is 10 different plants in that space. But look at his wildflower garden. The wetter lowlands are filled with colorful iris.
"This is black widow," he said. "It is my favorite iris because it is so deep purple that it appears black."
The wild irises come in almost every color.
"It's an Abbeville iris. It is noted as the reddest red wild Louisiana iris," Vidrine said.
The higher prairie lands are filled with a variety of sunflowers, colorful pea plants, milk weed and mints and grasses.
"You can break it apart and it breaks into kernels, just like corn," Vidrine said. "In fact, native Americans would pop this and call it popcorn."
And a few miles away in downtown Eunice, the Cajun Prairie Habitat Restoration Society owns a 10-acre site that has been seeded with native prairie plants over the last 30 years.
"I would hope that more people would understand how we really need to keep some of our native plants so that we can have the native insects and birds and everything else, because if we totally destroy this, it won't be here anymore," said Margaret Frey.
"We must restore," Vidrine said. "Why? Because there is so little left, the genetics are disappearing."
And these patches of restored prairie also show the beauty of native plants, from the tiniest sunflowers to larger blooming plants that saturate these fields with the colors of nature.