The idea of writing an article on wildflowers in the Natural state amused me, at first. Then I started to research the subject and was amazed at what I learned. God gave us a wonderful gift when he created the state we call home, Arkansas. The Natural State’s Wildflowers are definitely one of our prized possessions. The Natural State is blessed with more than 1,000 different species of wildflowers. You’ll find native azaleas, wild ferns, the Arkansas blue star, and many more along the road sides, river valleys, hills and mountains of Arkansas.
I do have a few favorites when it comes to the Natural State’s wildflower population. Nearly the entire state sports the Bird’s Foot Violet, (Viola pedata), which blooms from April through May. This tiny flower is only about one inch wide and its color appears in phases from light to dark violet. The leaves are what give this violet its name; they are divided into slender lobes that resemble a bird’s foot. The Goldenrod, (Solidigo Canadenis) is a large yellow flower that is separated but grouped fairly close to the main stem. The flowers are located in open areas and rocky slopes over most of the western two-thirds of the state. The Black-eyed Susan, (Rudbeckia Hirta), is definitely my favorite. You can see these blooming wildflowers from spring to fall. These beautiful flowers can be seen throughout the state in the fields and roadsides. They provide a food and cover for wildlife with their yellow petals and dark brown middles that are about two and a half inches in diameter. There are several books available detailing the many different Arkansas Wildflowers. These books make excellent gifts.
The different climates and terrains in Arkansas enable a large variety of wildflowers to grow within the state. We had relatives from other states visit us this spring. They just couldn’t believe the beauty of our state’s wildflowers. The majority of wildflowers in Arkansas are along fence lines, rural roads and secluded areas. Due to our growing population and changes in the environment, the areas in which wildflowers grow are constantly changing. Although highways and land developments have eliminated a good majority of the state’s native wildflowers, programs are under way to preserve wildflowers and bring them back to the roadways.
Wildflowers are utilized by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) to beautify the over 200,000 acres of highway roadsides it maintains. Operation Wildflower establishes new roadside wildflower populations with seeds donated by sponsors. Wildflower populations are established along interstates and primary highways with wide rights-of-ways for people to enjoy as they travel through our state. The planting sites seem to be limited due to safety restrictions, site accessibility, chemical and physical soil characteristics, and the availability of seed. Approximately 1,000 miles of highways have been included in a system of Wildflower Routes to showcase existing wildflower populations. Planting wildflowers along the right of ways helps preserve existing wildflower populations. Wildflower populations have actually increased as a result of the AHTD’s efforts to beautify our state. There are “Native Wildflower Area” signs posted along the roadsides to increase public awareness of the AHTD Wildflower Program. Through preserving existing wildflowers, planting native wildflowers along highway rights-of ways, and the Wildflower Sign Program, many of Arkansas’ roadsides now erupt into a glorious blanket of color year after year. These programs help reduce long-term maintenance costs, enhance roadside wildlife habitat, provide an attractive roadside environment, and preserve native plant populations, but most of all are beautiful to look at. Maintenance practices along these routes allow annual and perennial wildflowers to prosper and return year after year.
I don’t think I will ever take Arkansas wildflowers for granted again. The next time I see a highway roadside flooded with “Black Eye Susan’s”, I’m going to thank God for the beauty he has created and the AHTD for making it possible for all to see that beauty.