On September 29, a massive (15,000 square feet!) meadow restoration project was completed at Dale City's Rest Area.
This is one of many rest-stop pollinator habitats that are planned in addition to improving highway roadways for pollinators.
I know what you're thinking:
What good is a roadside strip full of plants that will entice pollinators who are going to slam into windshields or - heaven forbid!- face first onto the very license plates promoting their importance?
So far, the experts are in agreement that while there may be some mortality, over all, the improvement in habitat is beneficial to the pollinators. The Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation has a page full of information about it here.
Some of the other most frequent questions about this program:
Is this program just to help Monarchs? It seems like a lot of emphasis is being placed on Milkweed, and a lot is already being done for Monarchs. What about the "other" pollinators?
Monarchs are getting a lot of publicity lately because their population has plummeted. Monarch caterpillars can only eat Milkweeds; therefore, to increase the number of butterflies, we need to increase the number of caterpillars- thus, we need to provide tons of food for them to eat. But many other insects enjoy Milkweed too- Milkweed has its very own ecosystem of insects! Milkweed is not just valuable to Monarchs; also, it isn't the only flower being planted in this program. There are many other native flowering plants being planted, too.
There is already milkweed (and other plants) growing in the medians. Why does the state need more funds to just stop mowing and spraying it?!
But just having a few plants here and there isn't enough. And what happens before/after that Milkweed blooms? Pollinators need successions of flowers that will bloom from Spring through Fall. For Monarchs, in addition to Milkweed, we especially need Goldenrod and Asters to help fuel their journey south in the Fall months. Queen Bumble Bees need early blooming flowers to establish their new colonies in the Spring.
Yes, some of these plants already do grow along some roadsides and medians- let's have more!
In medians and areas where fescue is planted and mowed, it must be tilled and torn up before other plants can survive. Dropping the seeds there and letting them grow naturally can't work, because the native flowering plants that pollinators need can't out compete that fescue. Tilling costs money, and seeds cost money- cutting back on mowing and spraying will help cover some of these costs, too.
What is being planted?
The plantings will be local ecotype plants native to their regions in Virginia. The list will likely vary slightly region by region, and I'm not sure a list for each region has been established yet. The test plots at Dale City consisted of:
- Common milkweed (asclepias syriaca)
- Swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata)
- New England Aster (Aster nova-angliae)
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
- Joe Pye (Eupatorium maculatum)
- Beebalm/Oswego Tea (Monarda didyma)
- Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
- Wrinkle-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa)
- Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
- Blue-stem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)
- New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)
- Hoary Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum)
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm')
How are these plants going to be managed? Surely after a few years they will eventually become overgrown and unsightly, and will end up being mowed or sprayed when people start complaining about them.
Most of these roadside plantings aren't designed to look like a tidy flower bed, but are being treated more like a meadow restoration project. These habitats will become naturalized over time. This project will take at least a few years to implement plantings throughout the state, so the roadways planted will be in various stages. This staggering will help spread out the use of funds for initial plantings and for the continued maintenance.
If Loudoun Wildlife is working with VDOT, does that mean all of the funds for this program are only going to be used in Loudoun County, VA?
No- absolutely not. Nicole from LWC is spearheading this effort, but new pollinator projects have already begun in South West Virginia and Dale City. Volunteers from local organizations are also helping with the effort- Native Plant Societies, Dominion Power, etc.
How do we know funds that are raised for this program are really being used for this program?
The verbiage in the legislation will designate that the funds raised for this program can only be used for this program. This will be a very expensive program to implement statewide- as projected, it is incredibly unlikely that there would be any overages, i.e. leftover money hanging around and then being used on something else.