Roadside attractions Blooms: From median strips to sunny spots along highways all over Maryland, wildflowers are making their presence known.

July 12, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Even if you don't know a purple coneflower from a lance-leaved coreopsis, you must have noticed the spectacular wildflowers along our state highways this summer. Thanks to the State Highway Administration (with a little help from Mother Nature in the form of adequate rainfall), this has been one of the best years for blooms since the wildflower planting program began 11 years ago. a Give credit also to Lady Bird Johnson, wife of the former president. She helped get the native wildflower requirement into the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987. It's an ugly name for a law that has produced so much beauty. The amendment she sponsored requires that wildflowers be planted as part of any federally funded landscaping project along roadsides. a Over the years, the Maryland Department of Transportation's environmental analysts have come up with a mix of wildflower seeds that will produce blooms from March (corn poppy) through November (calendula, sulphur cosmos and lance-leaved coreopsis). a Not all are technically native wildflowers. "When we first started," says Kenneth Oldham, chief of the landscape operations division, "We used lots of oxeye daisy. It's pretty aggressive and it started taking over. Now we use the cultivated form, Shasta daisies." a Large, sunny areas and median strips are chosen as sites for the wildflowers - steep slopes won't work because the mechanical planters can't handle them. Once the wildflowers come up, they aren't fertilized or watered; but before the planting begins, poor soil is improved with organic matter and fertilizers. a "Then they're on their own to make it or not," says environmental analyst Bruce Knott. The areas are reseeded every five to eight years. a Both annuals and perennials are used in the mix, designed so that something is flowering the whole season. The most popular? "When cosmos is in bloom," says Knott, "the public loves it. It's a big bloomer."

Here's what the current mix of wildflowers includes:

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta).

Our state flower; what more can we say? Blooms from June through September.


(Gaillardia aristata).

Erect but spreading perennial with large, disk-like flowers in red and yellow. Blooms from May through October.


(Calendula officinalis).

Flowers up to 4 inches across in orange, apricot and yellow. Blooms from April through November.

California poppy

(Eschscholzia californica).

Solitary, shallow-cupped, poppy-like flowers in red, orange or yellow. Blooms from April through June.

Cornflower or bachelor's button

(Centaurea cyanus).

Erect annual with myriad blue flowers 1-2 inches across. Blooms from April through July.

Corn poppy or field poppy

(Papaver rhoeas).

Erect, branching annual with bowl-shaped, brilliant red flowers. Blooms from March through June.


(Cosmos bipinnatus).

Daisy-like flowers in shades of pink and white on freely branching stems. Blooms from April through November.

Dame's violet or sweet rocket

(Hesperis matronalis).

Short-lived perennial with lilac or purple flowers. Blooms from April through July.

Evening primrose

(Oenothera lamarckiana).

Large, saucer-shaped yellow flowers. Blooms from May through September.

Lance-leaved coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata). Yellow flowering stems with leaves at bases. Solitary flowers. Blooms from April through August.

Lemon mint

(Monarda citriodora).

Mint-scented foliage, tubular lavender flowers in crowded clusters. Blooms from June through September.

Plains coreopsis

(Coreopsis tinctoria).

Stiff-stemmed annual with solitary, bright yellow flowers. Blooms from May through August.

Purple coneflower

(Echinacea purpurea).

Erect perennial with purplish-red florets and a conical, golden-brown disk at the center. Blooms from July through October.

Rocket larkspur

(Delphinium ajacis).

Lavender blooms along tall, tapering spikes. Blooms from April through July.

Shasta daisy

(Chrysanthemum maximum).

The classic daisy. Blooms from May through July.

Spurred snapdragon

(Linaria maroccana).

Tall spikes of individual flowers in violet, white and pink. Blooms May through September.

Sulphur cosmos

(Cosmos sulphureus).

Open, bowl-shaped flowers in orange or yellowish red. Blooms from June through November.

Sweet William

(Dianthus barbatus).

Low-growing, with flowers in a range of colors and borders around central "eyes." Blooms from July through October.


(Cheiranthus allionii).

Evergreen perennial with brilliant orange flowers. Blooms from April through June.

White yarrow

(Achillea millefolium).

Showy perennial with

Fern-like leaves and white flowers with flat heads. Blooms from May through September.

Last summer's drought conditions made for a poor showing of the state's wildflowers compared with this year's. But lack of water isn't the worst that happens.

"One of our biggest problems is that people get out of their cars and pick them," says Rita Chapelle, spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration. "It's illegal and a safety hazard."

Specifically, picking wildflowers planted by the State Highway Administration is considered misdemeanor theft and carries a fine of up to $500 and 18 months in jail. To add insult to injury, violators also get a citation for illegal (nonemergency) stopping, a $40 fine.

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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