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Natural Missouri... from the Road

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

funding for these projects in the future."

She says MoDOT has implemented scenic roadside "Adopt-A Highway" and "Growing Together" projects with schools, other agencies, businesses and individuals. Instead of using invasive species like European tall fescue and Eurasian crown vetch in such projects, MoDOT is using native plant seed in selected areas.

One such project, a cooperative effort with the U.S. Forest Service and the Missouri Native Plant Society, targeted 6 miles of Highway 60 through the Mark Twain National Forest. Other projects include plantings at rest stops along Interstate 70 near Boonville, coordinated with the Conservation Department, and a stretch of Highway 54 between Jefferson City and Eldon adopted by the Missouri Wildflowers Nursery. Rockpost Wildflowers nursery planted another portion of the same highway near Fulton.

MoDOT has seeded native grasses after highway construction projects at the following locations: the south side of Interstate 70 near Williamsburg; at various locations along Highway 63 between Columbia and Moberly; along Highway 86 in Stone County, west of Highway 13, along Highway 160 in Christian County south of Nixa and along Highway 65 in Dallas County, south of Buffalo.

Other government entities also are establishing native plantings along rights-of-way under their jurisdiction. In Boone County, the public works department and the Natural Resources Conservation Service worked together to plant native grasses and wildflowers on sections of disturbed soil along reconstructed county roads. Workers broadcast a bottomland plant seed mix that included cord grass, cardinal flower, brown eyed Susans, goldenrod and spiderwort along the roadways through a floodplain. Such plants have evolved in wetter regions and are well suited to bottomland areas.

An upland mix that included Indian and little blue stem grasses, butterfly milkweed, black-eyed Susans, rough blazing star and pale purple coneflower was used for drier portions of the roadways. These seed mixes cost about twice as much as the traditional seed mixes, but these perennial native plants require less maintenance, so that money saved by mowing will pay for the plants in about three years.

As an added bonus, many native plants used in roadside management evolved in the dry climate of our prairies and glades and have massive root systems-as much as 15 feet deep. These roots "strengthen" the soil to prevent erosion. They also supply water to the plants even in the peak of a droughty summer, keeping them green while shallow-rooted exotics dry up and turn brown.

Preserving Missouri's remaining native vegetation and reintroducing plants native to natural communities along rights of way provide measurable financial and ecological benefits. The aesthetic benefits are immeasurable, but are no less important. When I'm traveling down the road and see glade plants in the Ozarks, or tall grasses in the Glaciated Plains prairies or water canna in the Bootheel, I can appreciate the natural patchwork of Missouri at close range, as Brackenridge did nearly 200 years ago.

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