See below, an hour long presentation by one of my major mentors, Dr. Malcolm F. Vidrine, biologist-naturalist-prairie ecologist. You will enjoy this if you are a friend of the soil. Its a How and Why on Butterfly gardening and Monarching in Louisiana….. Malcolm practices his Black Belt form on camera!
click on the above pic, and see Asclepias viridis at the Bogue Chitto, Mississippi exit on Interstate-55, looking north at 7:30 a.m.
State highway mowing-management in Louisiana and Mississippi needs advice from the perspective of an ecologist or three
I did some 70 mph botanizing, on my trip for work to West Monroe, La. Monday. I made a few stops to photograph and to do some brief on-the-ground botanizing as well. On the way back, I rode the part of Interstate 55, from Brookhaven, Ms. to Hammond, La for the second time that day. There was some stark differences in the landscape, between the Loosiana side and the Mississip side of I-55.
I made a few observations.
1. Why does the State mow this early along the highways?
The Mississip side of the state line, from above Brookhaven to McComb, was just filthy with Green Milkweed. There were thousands and thousands of plants, some of the most beautiful stands I have seen in a single day’s time; mile after mile of it. The Louisiana end, from Hammond to MacComb had been mowed about a month before. It was mostly void of flowering plants; thirty miles of Milkweeds swimming in species richness vs. thirty miles of no Milkweeds and almost flowering plants.
The Louisiana end looked like a golf course rough, and if you blurred your vision, it looked like a golf course fairway, a really slick lawn. The Mississip side was chocked full of flowering splendor. There were painterly sweeping strokes of the bright golden yellow of Coreopsis lanceolata, the Lance Leaf Corepsis, Coreopsis tomentosa, The Hairy Coreopsis, the clear-white of Erigeron Philidelphicus, the Showy Daisy Fleabane. There were possibly hundreds of millions of tiny purpley Verbena rigida and tenuisecta flowers, and most definitely hundreds of millions of umbel-buds of Sinecio tomentosus, Wooly Golden Ragwort, one of the prized and cherished, most beautiful of the perennial wildflowers in our fair state, especially in those numbers, the populations are phenomenal.
Crossing from the Loosiana border across to the Mississip border, I felt like Dorothy stepping into Land of Oz.
The mowing in late March of the Louisiana side brought the vegetation down to six inches, which triggered a vegetative reaction (new growth). It also exposed the soil to direct sunlight, which heated up the soil early-on, which totally shut down the groovy vegetation and spurred the growth of things that will come much later, on the Mississip side.
The sad part is its just a matter of a week or so before the mowers hit I-55 Interstate systems. They’ve just been held up by our persistent rains. I saw them working in full force on I-20.
2. the argument for mowing the highways (and I have heard it from the horse’s mouth), is that it is a safety concern/hazard because of the height of the vegetation. Right now, the only species that is at all tall is an occasional Thistle, maybe one or ten thistles every ten acres. Does a thistle every now and then constitute an entire mowing of ten thousand acres? Probly not.
I agree with the idea of mowing in late May or June, but right now, the vegetation where it hasn’t been mowed is only about six inches higher that where it has been mowed. I say bully bully. I say wait until the Milkweeds are done fruiting before mowing commences. This will likely benefit the Milkweeds, no?
3. The DOT needs an ecologist muscleman on staff or as a consultant, to guide their management strategies. DOT is the largest manager of land in the state and should be run as such, with an ecological approach hammered into the program.
The reason there is not an ecological approach to highway management is that the DOT would have to change their activity schedule and reduce mowing. They’d have to give up spraying their unwise herbicide use and if they didn’t mow, they’d hear it from Senator such-and-such and all the other mow-happy folks in the state via telephone or email. I am told DOT people get a lot of flack from folks when they don’t mow so its a quandary.
I am all about safety and federal guidelines on the Interstate highway system but these folks are seriously misguided and have very big guns (budgets). They know that if they reduce their management, they’ll loose money and all state departments always want more money.
4. Reduce herbicides in the landscape
above, When they spray over the railings on steep slopes, they are causing dead vegetation and excouraging soil erosion. This costs money to fix.
Miles and miles of herbicide sprayed along the Mississippi (Milkweed) side of the border. It is simply bad planning, in my opinion to install the protective rails so close to the highway edge. This makes for an unsafe environment for highway workers and a difficult zone to manage, so close to the highway. It should be placed in the middle of the median. Bad form on design, MDOT. And the herbicides just kill perennial grasses and forbs and encourage weedy, tall annuals. Any horticulturist knows that. You’re making the vegetation more weedy by spraying.
above, the beauty of Verbena rigida and Senecio tomentosus, near McComb, Mississippi. click on the photos to enlarge ’em.
5. Engineers know engineering, Landscape Architects know landscape architecture, but do either know that this is a beautiful natural garden that does not need mowing this early in the growing season?
above, the very beautiful but highly invasive Cogon grass, on I-59, south of Picayune, April 22, 2015. The seed of Cogon grass is maturing and about to float away on its journey to find bare soil to connect with. Spraying now is easy for crews to do since it is now that it is so highly visible. Ideally it should be sprayed just before seed heads mature to this point (four or five days ago, every year).
6. Cogon grass, our worst invasive plant, a horrible offender, a grass that is moving more rapidly across Louisiana now, as it did in Mississippi, since the mid-1990’s, will be impacting the economy of the Louisiana (as it has in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi). The state has a resonsibility to be vigilent in its efforts to contain it on their rights of way. They are the stewards of our roadways and they should be focusing on Cogon when it is just about to fruit, right now; spraying the dickens out of it. After all, this is the only time a crew of sprayers can identify and shoot at it to kill. Our roadways are the corridors that the fluffy travel-for-miles-seeds of Cogon grass moves. Put the crews out spraying Cogon instead of mowing our lovely wildflower gardens. Get productive, DOT!
I think I’ve said enough.