As one travels through certain corridors in Florida it is evident small flowers are beginning to pop up and bloom along certain roadways. Guess what? They may be wildflowers and we will begin seeing more of them around the state.
Florida Department of Transportation’s Wildflower and Natural Areas Program has its roots in the wildflower program created by FDOT in 1963.
While the core goals of FDOT’s roadside wildflower initiatives — improve aesthetics and driver safety while lowering maintenance costs — remain the same, FDOT has increasingly recognized and placed additional importance on preserving naturally occurring stands of wildflowers and remnants of native plant communities on Florida’s more than 12,000 miles of state-maintained roads.
Recent wildflower management efforts help facilitate development of roadsides into biological corridors comprised of a diverse mix of planted and naturally occurring native flora that increases habitat for pollinator species while safely reducing the cost of managing roadside vegetation.
So – how did this program begin?
In the early 1960s, FDOT received numerous telephone calls asking the name of a flower growing along State Road 19 and U.S. 27 just south of Tallahassee. FDOT’s Roadside Development Office investigated the matter and found that when the roadway was being built, the contractor bought sod for the roadside from a nearby cattle farmer, which contained a flower seed.
The farmer had planted crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) in his fields as a winter forage for the cattle and to enrich the pasture soil with nitrogen. With guidance from the farmer, FDOT purchased additional crimson clover seed and proceeded to plant the seeds along Florida’s roadsides.
By 1963, Florida Department of Transportation initiated the Wildflower Program for the state’s rights-of-way. Aesthetics, lower maintenance costs, and driver safety were the main reasons for the program.
At the same time, in north and central Florida, there was an emergence of an annual phlox along the roadsides, railroads, and large pastures. Whether the phlox is native to Florida is of considerable dispute.
One story told is that the members of the Gainesville Garden Club placed seed, soil, and fertilizer in small gelatinous capsules and tossed the capsules out of their car windows as they traveled the area.
Another tale gives credit to a railroad worker who claimed to have thrown the seed along the tracks on his many trips across the state. Regardless, the phlox have been greatly admired and appreciated by all travelers through north and central Florida each March and April.
What flowers have you noticed? Do you have a story to share?
One word of caution concerning our traffic safety though – don’t gaze upon the flowers to the point where you become distracted from safe driving, biking or walking. We want you to stay alive and enjoy the beauty all around.
By the way, signs are posted to remind the public to not disturb the flowers. During this time of season most have not bloomed yet. You’ll notice our contract maintenance companies minimize mowing the grass in order to allow the flowers to bloom and grow for our enjoyment.