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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Another Visit to Jungle Gardens on Avery Island, Louisiana

When we last visited Betty's RV Park in early 2018, we made a trip to the McIlhenny Tabasco plant on nearby Avery Island.  As part of that visit, we walked around Jungle Gardens, an arboretum built and nurtured by Edward Avery "Ned" McIlhenny, the son of the inventor of Tabasco sauce.  You can read about that visit in our blog entry titled, "Hot Times at the Tabasco Plant."

Having already learned about the Tabasco Plant, we returned to focus on the arboretum.  This view of the grounds tells much of the story -- a live oak with Spanish moss in the foreground, alligator ponds in the middle ground (now overgrown with colorful vegetation where, 2 years ago, they were full of clear water), and hillsides of trees and flowering bushes in the background:

Jungle Gardens comprises 170 acres with a wide variety of habitats and types of ecological zones.  Avery Island sits on a bayou, and portions of the Jungle Gardens include striking cypress swamps:

One major feature of the arboretum is the alligator pens, which are large ponds.  Not all are overgrown.  This photo was taken on an island in one of the water-filled ponds.  We could reach it by a footbridge --

-- and, at the end of the island, see a number of small alligators:

The ponds are home to numerous alligators.  This one was the largest we saw -- perhaps 5 feet long -- not big but still a fellow you wouldn't want to try to pet:

A glass temple set within a Chinese garden houses a Chinese Buddha from the 12th Century given to McIlhenny in 1936 by two friends. According to the story, in the 1920s a Chinese warlord from a feuding territory sent the Buddha statue to New York City.  When he received it, McIlhenny built an Asian-influenced garden setting for the statue on one of the seven "Hills of Knowledge" including a pond, arched bridge and glass-enclosed shrine.  This is a small white Buddha statue that perches just outside the glass shrine:

The main statue can be seen inside:

We were lucky to visit while azalea, rhododendron and camelias were blossoming.  Some of the hedgerows were striking:

Another major feature of Jungle Gardens is a large Wisteria Arch which, during the height of the season, is full of blossoms ranging from white to blue to deep purple.  We were a little early, so the arch itself was bare, but we found these early wisteria blooms, which gave us an idea of what the Arch might look like soon:

One of Jungle Gardens' primary attractions is a bird sanctuary called Bird City. It provides roosts for snowy egrets and other wildfowl species.  In 1895 McIlhenny raised eight egrets in captivity on the island, and released them in the fall for migration. They returned the next spring with other egrets, and have continued to do so over generations. Today thousands of egrets inhabit the island from early spring to late summer.  They nest on long platforms set out in the middle of a lake to assure the birds that they are safe from predators:

A few egrets chose instead to nest in nearby trees.  This is mating season, and egrets could be seen circulating in and out of the trees, perhaps looking for a mate or even beginning to construct their nests:

This is a closer look at the rookery, where some egrets were busy strutting their plumage to impress the opposite sex:

Returning toward the entrance from Bird City, we reached the Camelia Study Garden, which is filled with camelia bushes bearing all shades and variations of the beautiful blooms.  Here are some of our favorites:

After Jungle Gardens, we made sure to visit the Tabasco plant's gift shop, where we picked up some of our favorite Tabasco products.  Then, to top it off, we stopped for lunch at Bon Creole in New Iberia, known for its overstuffed Po Boy sandwiches (for Kathy) and its luscious gumbo (for David).  Kathy liked her Shrimp Po Boy so much, she couldn't resist taking this photo of all those tasty shrimpies -- backed by a tempting selection of Tabasco sauces for those of you who are inclined to spice things up:

Bon Goût!

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