With more than 25,000 acres of land in roadsides in Indiana alone, roadside and transportation rights-of-way are a significant, yet often overlooked, resource for the growth of native plants and wildflowers. In landscapes denuded of natural areas by large-scale agriculture or urbanization, roadsides are an increasingly important component of regional habitat networks. They frequently support native vegetation, providing refuge for wildlife and connecting fragmented habitat. The wildlife living on roadsides touches communities in every county in Indiana.
INDOT in the late 1990s began an innovative program aimed at beautifying Indiana's roadways, saving taxpayer dollars, lessening the effects of erosion and improving safety – since workers were not along roadsides mowing as often. INDOT developed the Hoosier Roadside Heritage Program in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
The primary goal of the Roadside Heritage Program is to promote and incorporate native plants and wildflowers into Indiana's roadside landscape. This provides benefits such as:
- Enhancing the beauty of the environment
- Reducing erosion
- Minimizing costs associated with mowing
- Lessening storm runoff
- Controlling invasive plant species
- Enhancing plant pollination
- Improving soil quality
Highway corridors across Indiana impact the lives of all our citizens on a daily basis. INDOT’s goal is to provide safe, affordable, aesthetically pleasing and environmentally compatible roadsides.
Steps to Enhanced Roadside Heritage
INDOT is incorporating many changes in its roadside maintenance operations to enhance roadside heritage and protect native plants and wildflowers. These include:
Reduced mowing: Mowing of roadside vegetation beyond the Safety Clear Zone (30 feet from pavement or to ditch) during the growing season is being reduced, allowing wildflowers to bloom. Mowing once a year out to 30 feet or once every few years in areas over 30 feet will reduce impact of mowing on plant pollination and wildlife, such as songbirds.
Reduced use of herbicides: Blanket herbicide applications outside the Clear Zone can eliminate beneficial wildflowers that pollinators depend upon. Spot-treatment of invasive and noxious weeds is a part of INDOT’s overall plan to make Indiana’s roadsides more beneficial and beautiful with carefully timed herbicide applications.
Greater use of native grasses and wildflowers: Roadsides planted with native grasses and wildflowers support more butterflies, bees and wildlife than roadsides dominated by non-native plants.
Native Plants Used
The definition of native plants and wildflowers varies, but native plants are generally considered plants present before settlers arrived in Indiana. Plants settlers brought along with them are considered wildflowers. Both native plants and wildflowers are capable of surviving climate extremes in their growing areas. The list of native plants and wildflowers is long and varies from the northern to the southern sections of Indiana.
Some of the most popular plants used in the Roadside Heritage Program include New England Aster, Butterfly Weed, Gayfeather, Perennial Lupine, Planis Coreopsis and Purple Coneflower. Prairie grasses are also part of the program, and include Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Blue Grama and Sideoats Grama.
INDOT's Seed Sources
Planting wildflowers and native plants along Indiana roadways requires seeds. To solve the problem, INDOT established three seed farms located in INDOT’s Winamac, Frankfort and Madison subdistricts.
Creating the seed sites was a unique opportunity and challenge for INDOT employees normally tasked with transportation-related duties. A small group of experienced staff members guide the projects. District and subdistrict employees plant, water and weed the seed sites in addition to their existing obligations. Department of Correction crews also help maintain the seed farms – allowing inmates to gain skills they can use to pursue a horticulture career.
If you have questions about mowing of roadside vegetation or about Hoosier Roadside Heritage Program plantings, please contact your local INDOT district office.
Transportation Services Call Center
Indiana Department of Transportation
100 N. Senate Ave., IGCN 755
Indianapolis, IN 46204