by Russell Juelg, Director for Outreach
White fringed orchid (Habenaria blephariglottis) blooming on Rt 563
NJDOT and Burlington County have provided a rare opportunity this year for us to see some characteristic Pine Barrens plants on some of the local roadsides. NJDOT has implemented a reduced mowing program along Hwy 70, and Burlington County has left most of Rt. 563 unmowed all season.
For many decades, local naturalists and nature clubs have tried to get authorities to stop mowing the roadside wildflowers, and their efforts, coupled with PPA’s advocacy, may finally be paying off—at least along some roads. Burlington County Natural Sciences Club, for example, has long advocated for reduced mowing. The idea was not to stop mowing altogether, but to stop or at least reduce mowing during the growing season. Rt. 563 is now displaying the results, with asters, goldenrods, bonesets, and the characteristic warm-season grasses putting on a nice show.
NJDOT has reduced the width of its mowing along Hwy 206 south of Atsion, and the result seems to be a spectacular blossoming of the population of Wand-like Goldenrod in that vicinity. I have heard two recent reports that the area is producing good Pine Barrens Gentian displays, too.
PPA is advocating that this kind of mowing regime be adopted throughout the Pinelands. Less mowing would save public money and make the roadsides more attractive. Not only that, but one might argue that mowing the wildflowers and other rare and distinctive plants of the Pinelands actually violates both the spirit and letter of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.
Certainly, public safety has to be taken into consideration. We can’t have vegetation on the road shoulders that obscures the view of drivers. And we can’t let vegetation become a fire-ignition hazard. But thousands of acres of characteristic Pine Barrens vegetation on road shoulders can be allowed to grow and flower and set seed without compromising these safety concerns.
We are grateful to NJDEP and Burlington County for adopting these reforms, and we hope other agencies, counties, and municipalities will soon follow the good example!