Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Wildflowers have multiple benefits

My wife was feeling a bit blue a couple of weeks ago or so. There were pictures showing up on her Facebook page of the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in bloom back in her home state of Texas. Beautiful pictures they were, too, of vast fields of blue or orange or a mix.

I've never been down there with her at this time of year. Maybe next spring we can manage schedules to get down in time to see the wildflowers all along the roadsides and up the hillsides and across the flatlands.

We don't have anything like that in Missouri. We could have, but we don't have the will or the desire. People here demand that the roadsides be clear, so the county highway departments and the state transportation department start mowing early.  We could have just as beautiful a spring as Texas does, for we have lots of native flowers. If we were willing to let them grow, we could have beautiful flowers all summer.

Missourians prefer a clean look to the rights-of-way. A few years ago, my wife and I drove back home from Springfield on the old Mother Road, Historic Route 66. As we drove through one county, the roadsides looked burned. That county's highway department had sprayed herbicide all along the highway, some of it reaching up into the lower branches of trees. It gave the county a clean, devastated look.

I thought of all that this past weekend when we went to the Downtown Farmers Market where the Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners and the Audubon Society were having a native plant sale, offering milkweed for Monarch caterpillars and wildflowers for the nectar-eating adults. There has been a big push by those groups and others to build up the habitat for the Monarch butterflies. A Master Naturalist even spoke to the city council last week about the need to plant the milkweed and wildflowers in our yards. She said a minimum of nine milkweed plants of at least two varities is necessary. Plus we need more wildflowers.

We bought some plants and brought them home. I got to thinking about the loss of habitat. Part of that loss is because of all the mowing and herbicide applying that goes on each year. I don't know if the Texas highway department is putting out milkweed annually, but there are plenty of wildflowers there for the adult butterflies.

It would make a lot of sense to let some of these roadsides go without mowing. For the money we would save on mowing, the counties and state could affort to spread out some wildflower seed.

Texas has been doing that for so many years that their wildflowers have become tourist attractions. I read on a state website that they figure the wildflowers boost the economy by several millions of dollars.

That would be one benefit. Another would be the pollination done by the Monarchs. The Master Naturalist told the city council that every third bite of food we eat is the result of pollination. We need to promote habitat for bees and butterflies.

Maybe the counties and cities could help by laying off the mowing for awhile.

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