TAMPA — By summer’s end, a few long stretches of Hillsborough County median will burst into a blanket of color.
Working with the Florida Wildflower Foundation and the Native Plant Society, the county’s Public Works Department is set to lay out carpets of black-eyed susans, blanket flower and a mix of native blossoms.
“Historically, there were some wildflowers in local roadways, but not recently,” said County Spokeswoman Andrea Roshaven. For now, there are just a few signs in the grass giving motorists a heads-up on what is to come.”
Hillsborough Commissioner Al Higginbotham brought a request for the county to work with the wildflower program and the Native Plant Society to his fellow commissioners in May 2013.
“We went for a grant to get money for seed and this month and last month we worked with the University of Florida’s extension service and identified places that would be good to have wildflowers, based on soil and site conditions,” Roshaven said.
On Lithia-Pinecrest Road, a swath of beach sunflower is going in. A portion of Fletcher Avenue will sport black-eyed susans and on Progress Boulevard and County Road 39, a variety of native Florida wildflowers will dress up the median.
“North Florida, because of its rural character, has had the best roadside wildflowers in the state,” said Florida Wildflower Foundation Executive Director Lisa Roberts. “Now, the Florida Department of Transportation has passed a new wildflower area program procedure that actually encourages counties to manage their roadsides for wildflowers. FDOT gives them an instrument to do it by nominating roadsides.”
There is an economic value in the wildflowers, not only in tourism, but in environmental services, because they sequester carbon from the air, Roberts said.
“A new study from FDOT that we are just now reviewing shows that if you take a landscape on the roadside — bahia grass or an area planted with palms and grasses — its value can be compounded by adding or managing wildflowers that naturally occur,” she said.
Roshaven said the seeds will be planted in May and wildflowers should bloom by August.