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“Wildflowers” on our highways. October 31, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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When our friend Ben and Silence Dogood visited West Virginia a couple of weeks ago, we were shocked and appalled to see great drifts of cosmos blooming merrily in the median strips of the highways. We probably don’t have to tell you that the scenery in West Virginia is spectacular, and we were lucky enough to be there during their peak fall foliage season.

From the trees and shrubs along the roads to the mountains rising on every side, we were surrounded by the glorious reds, scarlets, oranges, golds, yellows, and purples of autumn foliage. We would have liked to see those colors reflected along the roads rather than the soft and hot pinks and cerise of the cosmos, which struck us as jarring, sort of like ordering chocolate mousse and seeing a carrot sticking out of the middle of it.

We also feel that it would be far more appropriate to plant our roadsides with native wildflowers rather than fake “wildflowers”—garden annuals like cosmos introduced from other parts of the world. Real wildflowers and grasses would be easier to care for, too. Rather than having to be replanted every year like the cosmos and babied along all season, once the natives were established, they’d just have to be mowed each fall.

We would have loved to see a colorful mix of asters, goldenrods, black-eyed Susans (rudbeckias), purple coneflowers, and grasses like bluestem (andropogon) brightening the roads with their fall-friendly hues. But Silence raised a good point. We both have backgrounds in horticulture. “If typical drivers and passengers saw this cosmos, don’t you suspect they’d just think ‘How pretty’?” she wondered.

Just two days later, we had our answer when we went to the Tamarack crafts center with the Hays family. As we passed yet another strip of cosmos, Cindy Hays exlaimed delightedly, “Look! Isn’t that beautiful!” 

Hmmm. We still think garden flowers belong in the garden and our beautiful native wildflowers and grasses belong on our roadways. What do you think?



1. tina - October 31, 2008

I think that perhaps cosmos are the easiest for the municipalities to maintain and perhaps they are better than nothing. I sure think they are beautiful along the roadsides. Beats the normal mowing and plain old hay fields any day.

Tina, you are clearly not alone! Thanks for stepping up to vote!

2. deb - October 31, 2008

Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson ,here in Texas we have a great roadside wild flower project. I have seeds from the program that I should be spreading right now.

That’s fantastic, Debbi! Kudos to Lady Bird!

3. Shibaguyz - November 1, 2008

Unfortunately, the state DOT here decided they would use their version of a wild flower in our medians. Unbelievably enough, they sewed scotch broom everywhere! Being one of the weeds most toxic to humans, we are all miserable when these yellow disasters bloom and the yellow pollen coats our air filters as we drive along the highways. In addition, they are rampant reproducers. They spread EVERYWHERE! At this point, there is no getting rid of them. We are doomed to a life sentence of toxic weeds in our medians here.

That said, we are with you that natives should be planted in the medians leaving the invasive, toxic, ugly, obnoxious stuff where it came from. *steps off soap box*

Ack, what were they thinking?!! We’ve heard lots and lots about how invasive broom is. Our sympathies!

4. vegplotting - November 1, 2008

Hmmm – deliberately planted or garden escapees?

If deliberate, then that’s plain thoughtless.

It’s very deliberate, VP. At least cosmos isn’t an invasive weed (see the Shibaguyz’ comment above), so clearly things could be worse. But it wouldn’t have killed them to bring in some regional plant experts to consult before tossing out “meadow in a can”…

5. Cinj - November 3, 2008

I doubt they even give it a second thought most of the time, but I agree that native wildflowers are wonderful to see when driving by. That’s all we have around here, I suppose that’s a god thing about living in the middle of nowhere. Who are we trying to impress with flowers? People that come to visit here are more interested in tourist activites, fishing, and outdoor recreation.

Good for you, Cinj! We, too, live in the middle of nowhere and don’t have to deal with this. Doubtless folks would be planting corn in the median strips here if they could vote on it!

6. Nancy - November 3, 2008

Every March and April, I’m again thankful to Lady Bird Johnson. She made the highways of Texas beautiful. And, as you said, all that the TxDoT has to do every year is NOT mow until the seeds have set.

Most parts of Texas don’t have a fall display of leaves, but we’ve an unbeatable spring display of native wildflowers.

Sounds so beautiful, Nancy! It’s been ages since we’ve been down your way, but we loved San Antonio and need to get back there and spend some time enjoying Texas. One of these days!

7. Ratty - November 4, 2008

I wonder how much tax money it costs the state for the upkeep of these new flowers.

Me, too, Ratty! That’s a good question. The famous $50,000 ashtray comes to mind…

8. kate - November 4, 2008

I’d go for the wildflowers – along our highways, that’s what springs up because I don’t think anyone would think to plant flowers. I quite love seeing wildflowers through the changing seasons.

We do too, Kate! We love to see the scenery change with the seasons, and the sameness of those annuals that flower all season—the very feature that makes them helpful in the garden—makes them jarring (to us, anyway) on the highway.

9. Becca - November 4, 2008

Having just driven a hefty portion of interstate, I would have given just about anything for some color in the median. I definitely understand the desire to plant color. I have witnessed the Texas highways first hand. The Indian paintbrush is still my favorite!

Indian paintbrush is breathtaking, Becca!

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