Browned highway ramp areas to become colorful fields

The fields of grass nestled along the ramps of two highway interchanges in White Township have taken on a new look in recent weeks.

The natural, green grassy areas along the US Route 119 ramps to and from PA Route 286 and PA Route 110 now appear to have been stricken by brush fire, drought or crop failure. But the dry, brown acreage – neutralized by an application of herbicide in mid-June – will be replaced in coming months with expanses of colorful wildflowers, friendly to butterflies and bees.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is administering the work.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded money from the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Conservation Fund to the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania for this project.

The Audubon Society selected the Route 119 interchanges and almost 150 other highway rights-of-way in Pennsylvania to be cleared of natural growth and replanted with a mix of milkweed plants and 20 native flower species.

When regrown, the interchange loops will be habitats for monarch butterflies and other endangered native pollinators such as rusty-patched bumblebees and yellow banded bumblebees.

According to PennDOT’s District 10 office in White Township, the interchanges will be sprayed again in early August to catch any remaining vegetation in the project areas.

“A contractor for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania will seed it sometime in September with pollinator friendly plants, and it will have a meadow like appearance,” said PennDOT Roadside Specialist Ryan Succheralli. “It will be mowed to a height of 10 inches or so in the fall.”

Succheralli said the mix contains 20 native species that will provide three seasons of nectar resources for pollinators. Includes three types of milkweed, a host plant for Monarch butterflies; clump-forming grasses, considered good nesting habitat for bumblebees; and species that are particularly beneficial for bumblebees, such as wild bergamot, both a bumblebee superfood and immunity aid; and multiple species blooming for the three seasons to help ensure adequate resources.

The recipe for the soon-to-be colorful fields in the White Township highway interchanges includes seeds for:

Schizachyrium scoparium – little bluestem – warm season grass

Panicum virgatum – Switch grass – warm season grass

Juncus species – rush spp. – warm season grass

Carex vulpinoidea – Fox sedge – cool season grass

Agastache foeniculum – Lavender hyssop – mid-late season nectar source

Asclepias incarnate – Swamp milkweed – mid season nectar source

Asclepias syriaca – Common milkweed – mid-late season nectar source

Asclepias tuberosa – Butterfly weed – mid season nectar source

Chamaecrista fasciculata – Partridge pea – mid-late season nectar source

Conoclinium coelestinum – Blue mistflower – late season nectar source

Coreopsis lanceolata – Lance-leaved coreopsis – early-mid season nectar source

Echinacea purpurea – Broad-leaved purple coneflower – mid-season nectar source

Eupatorium perfoliatum – Common boneset – mid-season nectar source

Liatris spicata – Marsh blazing star – mid-season nectar source

Monarda fistulosa – Wild bergamot – mid-season nectar source

Penstemon digitalis – Foxglove beard tongue – early – mid season nectar

Rudbeckia hirta – Black-eyed Susan – mid-late season nectar

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium – Aromatic aster – mid-late season nectar

Tradescantia ohiensis – Spiderwort – early-mid season nectar

Zizia aurea – Golden alexanders – early-mid season nectar