Charlotte - When in bloom, the cheery yellow petals of the Maximilian Sunflower are hard to miss. They stand out against the black asphalt and wave at drivers as they pass by.
But the thousands of wildflowers didn't bloom on N.C. 24 in Mecklenburg County by chance. The wildflower bed is a carefully coordinated, award-winning effort by local N.C. Department of Transportation employees.
NCDOT's Division 10 (which includes Anson, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Stanly and Union counties) was recently recognized during the 2015 Wildflower and Daylily Awards. Division 10 won the award for Best Regional Wildflower Planting in the Central Region for the division's wildflower bed on N.C. 24 at Old Concord Road in Mecklenburg County.
"This really is a year-round undertaking for us," said Bruce Myers, Division 10's Roadside Environmental Engineer. "It truly is a privilege and a blessing to be a part of this program. We always hope that the flowers that we sow will help to brighten someone's day along the way."
Caring for each of Division 10's wildflower beds is a significant undertaking. Myers' team sprays and tills the wildflower bed sites, then removes rocks and sows the beds before staking the beds off. Then, they'll spray the beds, if needed, followed by fertilizer application.
Currently, there are 18 wildflower beds in Division 10, totaling about 25 acres. These are all perennial beds, sown in the fall. This summer, the Division will add approximately 20 more beds, filled with cosmos and zinnias.
"NCDOT has been planting wildflowers for 30 years," said Don Lee, state roadside environmental engineer. "And the benefit is not simply aesthetic. The flowers help sustain the pollinator population, which is vital to the success of the state's agribusiness community."
In 1985, First Lady Dottie Martin, inspired by an article she had read in The Wall Street Journal about Texas' wildflower program, approached NCDOT about initiating a similar program to beautify the highways of North Carolina. This set the stage for the establishment of the Wildflower Program, which is coordinated by the NCDOT Roadside Environmental Unit. Today, the program has more than 1,500 acres of flower beds across the state.