Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Native Plantings on Highways

Instead of constant mowing, Delaware is allowing native grasses and flowers to grow along its highways.

Dark green switchgrass stands four feet tall. Asters, amonsia with tiny blue flowers, and flowering white thoroughwort nestle there, in place of a simple lawn. Down the road, the cloverleaf for I-95 and Route 896 is filled with golden Indiangrass, its gossamer flowers riffling as trucks whiz by.

This is the meadow vista when Delaware was a colony, and before. Now these regional plantings are increasingly deployed by highway gardeners around the country who see themselves as heirs of an environmental Enlightenment. Their credo: get the mowers out of the 12 million acres of roadsides and median strips around the United States, and let the wildflowers and grasses grow.

In part as a frugal move — not mowing can save states tens of thousands of dollars each year — at least a dozen states including Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Vermont and Washington State , have increased their inventory of native plantings. Roadsides, they say, are the national front porch. Why, then, should they look like an English formal garden or a Scottish golf course? Why shouldn’t they mimic the land as it was before highways?

In the words of the University of Delaware horticulturist, Susan S. Barton, an adviser to the state’s Department of Transportation: “We’re doing it so when you’re driving around Delaware you know you’re in Delaware, not in the tropics.”
The article reviews highway vegetation policies in other states and the problem of crown vetch, first introduced along Pennsylvania highways half a century ago.