Beautiful Native Plants

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Florida’s roadside meadow program

A Florida roadside meadow on 5/1/14 really “pops” and the adjacent farm is planted with wildflowers, too.
I took the long way home from a meeting with my editor at University Press of Florida in Gainesville and Marjorie Shropshire, my illustrator, last year. Marjorie and I stopped to photograph this amazing meadow in Putnam County. (Located in the south central section of district 2 as shown in the map below.)

The graphic shows which counties have roadside wildflower resolutions and there’s a link to the model resolution to make it easy for citizens to get involved. 

Sample roadside wildflower resolutions are available for Florida counties.

Florida has a great program to encourage each county to adopt a low mow regimen with a couple of options for incorporating wildflowers. This program has been especially successful in Florida’s Panhandle with the help of the Florida Wildflower Foundation and the local Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) chapter members.

I decided to write about this program after attending a session at the FNPS conference last month presented by Bob Farley, who works with Florida’s DOT, and by Eleanor Dietrich, a consultant for the Florida Wildflower Foundation and active member of the local FNPS chapter. Eleanor covered effective ways to approach local officials, with her famous Rule of “P”s:
– Be Prepared
Have your materials and handouts ready ahead of time. Your facetime
may be severely limited, so this preparation can make the difference
between making your point or not.
– Be Polite and Respectful
Even if you disagree with a policy or a municipal worker thinks
you’re wasting time. Getting angry or antagonistic means that you
may not be welcomed back in the future.
– Deliver Praise
Compliment the workers or group for policies, laws, or actions that
are steps in the right direction—no matter how small.
– Be Punctual
If you’ve set up a time to meet someone, make it easy by meeting
at his or her office (or other designated place) and be early for the
meeting. Things can be a whirlwind of activity in government or
agency offices, so don’t be a hindrance to their operations.
– Be Persistent
If your contact initially rejects your ideas but suggests a date when
you can come back, don’t let it slide; call back and be there. Or try
talking to a different person with a slightly different responsibility.
Or organize a grass roots group so you are harder to ignore.
– Be Patient
Changing government policies can be a cumbersome process, so
it may be a long time before anything happens even if your ideas
are accepted.

Q & A

Bob talked about the more technical aspects of actually getting it done. After the presentation, I still had some questions, so here are my questions and Bob’s answers:

1) How can counties that have not yet converted their roadsides to wildflowers get started? Are there sample ordinances or other resources that could help them get started more easily?

The Florida Wildflower Foundation has sample resolutions online, which is the first step for getting wildflower areas designated on state roads.

2) You mentioned the two types of roadside meadows. Is the type that uses the naturally occurring flowers gaining in popularity because of the lower cost to get started with no herbicide and no seed to purchase?

The Florida DOT has published a policy statement which establishes management of “naturally occurring” wildflowers as the preferred method.  The motivation is part cost saving and part taking advantage of the abundant flora of the state.

3) When determining which type of meadow, what do you look for?

The preferred criteria for establishing a naturally occurring wildflower area is: wildflowers should be existing in the right of way or immediately adjacent land; there should be minimal competition from exotic invasive plants or noxious weeds; the right of way should be wide enough to accommodate a significant wildflower display and the necessary roadside safety zones; a single contiguous landowner is preferred to multiple residential or commercial driveway entries; a rural arterial road with high traffic counts is preferred for maximum public visibility; and special consideration is often considered for listed threatened or endangered species present in the right of way.  Wildflower seeded areas are primarily located in more urban areas or limited access roadways with the primary criteria being high visibility viewzones, width of the right of way, and gradient of slope to avoid erosion issues.  We also respond to requests from citizen groups (garden clubs, mostly) to place small seeded wildflower plots in strategic locations around municipal welcome signs and other local landmarks.

4) Reduced mowing is a big selling point on the wildflower roadsides. So I assume that the areas closest to the road are still mowed 7 times a year, but how often do the wildflower areas get mowed? Is it once in the winter only to keep the trees and shrubs from growing?

Our management plans typically call for a safety zone of 15 feet from edge of pavement to be mowed on a regular basis up to 7 cycles.  A mowing of the full right of way is normally scheduled for late fall after seed set is complete for fall species, usually after Thanksgiving here in the Panhandle.  We sometimes will schedule a mowing of the full right of way during the lightning season in late May or June to replicate fire in fire dependent habitats that are threatened by ruderal* weeds.

5) Is there something you think that the general public should know about these programs that is not obvious?

Yes, it ain’t easy.  Planning for seeding of wildflowers isn’t as simple as most people believe.  There are many factors to consider to tailor the right species mix with the habitat and soil composition.  And establishment is just the beginning; it is a very competitive world and management to sustain preferred species requires an ongoing and diligent effort.  Establishing a naturally occurring wildflower meadow requires a knowledge of ecological restoration practices to return the natural plant communities to a site that has been managed for years to sustain exotic turf grasses…and without the use of fire for obvious safety reasons.

Also the district is responding to requests to conserve special species of concern that are not listed, but have special relationships with native pollinators.  We have two wildflower areas that we survey for plants that support threatened butterflies, one for Asclepias humistrata as a spring larval host for the migrating Monarch, and one for Lupinus perennis for the Frosted Elfin.

*Ruderal:  The literal meaning is “of rubble.” Ruderal species germinate quickly and thrive in sunny disturbed landscapes. Plants that grow well in ruderal areas are ruderals, including some of our favorite native plants such as blackeyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.).

A study of one meadow in Putnam County…

May 1, 2014

May 1, 2014. Coreopsis is the dominant plant in this seeded meadow. Also see the top photo. (Marjorie is taking photos, too)

July 4, 2014

Only one month later, the coreopsis has faded and the gaillardias are dominant. The farmer has made hay from his wildflower field. Just think what that hay would do to establish a new wildflower meadow.

Softhair coneflowers (Rudbeckia mollis) have clasping leaves and longer stems than the more common black-eyed Susans (R. hirta).

September 30, 2014

In September the meadow has been mowed and the fence has been sprayed with some type of herbicide. But there are still some remaining flowers that are low to the ground.

A walk along the fence shows that not everything was killed. The spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata) looked pretty good and it was covered with pollinators.

May 12, 2015

So I stopped by two weeks later than the previous year when the transition between coreopsis and gaillardia was taking place. It was still pretty but it doesn’t knock your eyeballs out.

This year there seemed to be a little more variety than the previous year. The phlox was more evident

This year there were several large patches of Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis). Notice the full pollen sacks on the carpenter bee.

Roadside meadow benefits

1) The counties and towns save money with less mowing.
2) The driving public slows down and the local economy may be enhanced by people thinking positively of the area.
3) The meadows serve as important habitat for native pollinators.

There are more detailed studies of the benefits posted on the Florida Wildflower Foundation website that can be used to convince local politicians that meadows are “good.” Much of what has been accomplished in Florida could be implemented anywhere in the country, so make an appointment to talk to your own local government official because now you’ll have some better tools to make your case for more pollinator habitat.

© Ginny Stibolt