The fertile river valley along the Mississippi River always lent the region an abundance of flora to grace its banks. But even after it was settled, the bank of the Mississippi where Baton Rouge finally nestled remained rich and inviting to just about anything the settlers could plant there. Magnolias mixed with wildflowers, crape myrtles rose above azaleas, and rose gardens crept and wound their way around the parks, municipalities and along the Garden District near the heart of Baton Rouge.
In his pre-Civil War autobiography called "Life on the Mississippi," Mark Twain describes Baton Rouge as a city "clothed in flowers, like a bride---no, much more so; like a greenhouse .... The magnolia trees in the Capitol grounds were lovely and fragrant, with their dense rich foliage and huge snowball blossoms." These trees and the abundance of roses, rhododendrons and native flowering plants that bedecked Baton Rouge at the time left a strong impression on the passerby from road or river.
Magnolias and Crape Myrtles are both famous tree favorites throughout the South. Crape myrtles are so common that some varieties are named after famous southern cities, notably New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Magnolias thrive in the fertile plains on both sides of the Mississippi River, but so common are they around Baton Rouge that a major plantation overlooking the city was named after them: the Magnolia Mound. Mark Twain claimed that their scent is so powerful it could suffocate one in their sleep.
Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons
These southern bushes need especially rich, acidic soil and warm, mild weather. Baton Rouge has these things in spades. In spring, they bloom thick enough to hide most of the foliage of the bushes themselves. A private collector in Baton Rouge named Violet Stone cultivated hundreds of varieties of the rose-like camellias, which were later propagated and donated to the Burden Center for agricultural research.
The Burden Center
Along with the camellias, this 440-acre tract of land in the heart of Baton Rouge houses more than 800 varieties of award-winning roses, blooming fruit trees, organic flower gardens, and a historical garden rife with its own camellias and azaleas. The historical Burden home has been incorporated into the Lousianna State University's agricultural research program for flowers, crops, grasses and other plants.
Black-eyed Susans, blue lobelia and any number of vetches and milkweeds adorn highways 10, 12 and 110 all the way into Baton Rouge. Closer to the river, Louisiana irises peak up near the banks along with the daisy-like blooms of the cup plant. Coneflowers, wild petunias and false indigos reclaim any neglected parking lot, back alley or abandoned lot at the first opportunity.