Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Battlefield report

with 34 comments

The developing Mexican hat that you saw on February 3: mowed down.

The dozens of flowering gaura plants, of which you saw one on February 2: mowed down.

The little kidneywood bush on which you saw a sulphur butterfly in this morning’s post: mowed down.

The anemone that you saw on February 4: not a trace remains.

Scores of fully open greenthread flowers, which I didn’t show you: all mowed down.

Here we are, after the horrendous drought of 2011 that left the land barren and brown, finally in a respite that may or may not last, with all sorts of wildflowers beginning to come up on the embankments and in the median of the expressway called Mopac, and the mowers have cut it all down. Yes, cut down all the wildflowers that we pay to have seeded along the highway.

Last August I reported on the massacre of snow-on-the-mountain plants in Cedar Park, and that wasn’t the first such incident, so nothing of this sort surprises me. I’ve given up trying to figure out why mowers hate wildflowers, but they do. Sometimes I think it’s a wonder they don’t mow each other down in their obsession to cut everything to within a few inches of the ground.

For never was a story of more woe
Than this of wildflowers from a week ago.

But I walked the scene of carnage this morning, and I can report one saving grace: the goldeneye and the mistflowers and some budding agarita survived the assault because they’re close to a limestone outcrop along the west margin of the access road where the mowing machines can’t easily get at them.


Update on February 9. This morning I spoke with Clint Dube, a maintenance supervisor at TxDot (the Texas Department of Transportation). He said that the agency normally does its mowing on Mopac after the first hard freeze of the winter. This year, however, Austin didn’t get a hard freeze. What we did get was intermittent rain, and Mr. Dube said that the wet ground prevented mowing until now, which was 3–4 weeks later than he would have liked. Let’s hope that in future years the mowing will take place sooner.

There was still a question of the height of the deck on the mowing machines. Perhaps it could have been set higher than it was to spare some of the wildflowers, and he said he’ll look into that. I don’t think he knew that so many wildflowers were already coming up. I’ve e-mailed him links to last week’s blog postings so he can see some of the pretty things that got cut down.

One last thing: it turns out that the seeding of wildflowers on parts of Mopac was funded by a private party. That may have spared the taxpayers in this instance, but I can’t imagine that the people who did pay for the seeds will be happy to learn about the fruits of their labor getting cut down prematurely. I also have to wonder how willing those people will be to fund future projects once they find out how many of the seeds they’ve paid for have gone to waste.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 8, 2012 at 10:53 AM

34 Responses

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  1. Just sad:(


    February 8, 2012 at 11:00 AM

  2. Good grief!

    The Course of Our Seasons

    February 8, 2012 at 11:02 AM

  3. How about sending before and after pictures to members of your local government? Make sure to let them know that you are also posting the pictures on Facebook to demonstrate how the city of Austin, in the home state of Lady Bird Johnson, spends taxpayer money.

    Marcia Levy

    February 8, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    • I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about this. I have a call in to a local office of TxDoT, the Texas Department of Transportation, because Mopac is a state highway. Once I get a call back from the maintenance supervisor there and know more about how the mowing is set up, I can decide how to follow up. But you’re right, of course, to point out the irony of what goes on in the city that Lady Bird Johnson is so often praised for beautifying.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 11:29 AM

  4. It happens here in the Tulsa area, too. A posted sign reading, “Wildflower Plot,” is planted right in the middle of a freshly mown roadside embankment – which looks very dangerous to mow, I might add! Why do people like golf course-like mown grass better than the wildflowers and butterflies?


    February 8, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear you’ve got a similar situation there. I’ll commiserate with you. The sign that you mention is particularly ironic: can you take a picture of it that shows how everything has been mowed down around it?

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 11:31 AM

  5. Maybe you should go on Change.org and start a petition to stop the outrage, Sally

    Sally W. Donatello

    February 8, 2012 at 11:57 AM

    • Thanks for making me aware of Change.org, Sally. I’m still waiting to hear back locally, but we’ll see.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 12:13 PM

  6. So sad.


    February 8, 2012 at 12:21 PM

  7. And I thought Austin is supposed to be a liberal, progressive city. Call your tourism board! We come to see the flowers!

    Bonnie Michelle

    February 8, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    • And Austin has made great “progress” in mowing down the wildflowers before you get to see them!

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 1:40 PM

  8. Two things crossed my mind as I read your post.

    1. It is always done this time of year and the [heck] with the drought and unseasonable weather they have a schedule to keep. “You blooming now? Oh, too bad, it’s time to mow.” Wondering, would mowing this month, under normal circumstances, be cutting down dried plant material and disbursing seeds?

    2. With the unprecedented drought, you also had unprecedented wildfire last year. Do you think this was a move on their part to prevent more wildfire over the next few months?

    What they have done seems so blatantly stupid, that I suppose I am hoping for a reasonable explanation for their actions. ~ Lynda


    February 8, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    • Those are good questions, Lynda. I suspect that now is the “normal” time for these people to mow, and that in other years it might make sense, but the failure to take current circumstances into account shows that whoever is in charge lacks necessary vision and flexibility. Last year the mowers used the drought as a pretext to cut down more than I’ve ever seen cut down before, but over the winter we’ve had rain and most things are looking green; if the rain goes away and the drought continues, there would be plenty of time to cut down plants as they begin to dry out or die.

      In any case, cynical me never has to look very far to find things that could easily be done in a better way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 2:27 PM

  9. Jeez and I thought that this was just a Pennsylvania thing. The state government or some division plants wildflowers in the medians and then when they are looking really healthy and beautiful…out come the mowers. Maybe they figure the tall plants hide critters that would run out on the highway??


    February 8, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    • Ah, so the epidemic has spread to Pennsylvania. I’d say you may be looking too hard to find a logical explanation: to my mind, mowers mow because mowers like to mow, that’s all. If common sense ran out onto the highway right-of-way, mowers would mow it down too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 2:31 PM

  10. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your daily photos were posted in the newspaper as a column.. it might help people sit up and take notice of the beautiful in the natural areas around them.

    Just A Smidgen

    February 8, 2012 at 7:15 PM

    • Of course I’m with you on encouraging people to take notice of the beautiful in the natural areas around us. Some years ago I tried to interest the local newspaper in running a column that I would have called something like Wildflower of the Week, but they turned me down. Maybe some other time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 7:48 PM

  11. At least they didn’t spray pesticide like they used to in the UK (right up until the 90s!). Still, very sad.


    February 9, 2012 at 1:28 AM

  12. That’s horrible! … most of us don’t value a flower if it’s not a rose ….


    February 9, 2012 at 1:32 AM

  13. My goodness! I completely understand your anger.

    How do other citizens feel about the mowing? Do they care? Do they speak up? I guess quite a few care, because they like flowers too, but won’t speak up, because they don’t know who to talk to and don’t know much about the plants either.

    Maybe it’s a good idea to reach out to them and get support.


    February 9, 2012 at 5:41 AM

    • I’m still working on it. So far no one has returned my phone call from Wednesday morning, but the same thing happened in the different jurisdiction last year (I remember that you commented then too). There are at least a couple of native-plant-promoting organizations I want to talk to as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2012 at 6:55 AM

  14. Here in New Hampshire they do this sort of thing once each year along the roadsides, just when the goldenrod begins to bloom. I understand that it is done to keep the brush down. Brush turns into trees. Storms blow down the trees. Falling trees take the wires down with them and everyone loses power. I agree with their reasoning but can’t undestand why they can’t mow later, after the first freeze.

    New Hampshire Gardener

    February 9, 2012 at 7:27 AM

    • You said it: it’s all a matter of timing. The way things are now, the plants are apparently expected to accommodate themselves to the mower’s schedule and not the other way around.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2012 at 7:40 AM

  15. A microcosm of our world. Makes me mourn.
    Will the council listen to concerns since, presumably, they are the ones who sow the seed in the first place? I just cannot fathom this attitude and behaviour.

    The World Is My Cuttlefish

    February 9, 2012 at 7:44 AM

    • From some of the comments above, this seems to be a more widespread problem than I realized. I’ve seen a lot of unfathomable things in my time, so this just gets added to the list. I’m still working on figuring out who’s responsible.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 9, 2012 at 8:55 AM

  16. I’m glad that you were able to find a “real”person to discuss the plight of the planted islands. I hope that your actions have good results. Awareness is the key to prevention, so let’s hope that this story prompts others to act too. Unless you ask, change cannot occur. I had a situation where I was able to get action. A few months ago there was a violent storm that took down a huge limb across the White Clay Creek (I pass it daily on a walk and saw it from the bridge). Also I can tell you that many, many others must have seen what I saw too. The fallen limb impeded the natural flow of the creek, which is very wide at the point of observation. I called the City and within a few weeks the limb was trimmed with care. Sometimes action can actually happen, even if not immediately. Great job, Sally

    Sally W. Donatello

    February 11, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    • Let’s hope for better next time, but the cynic in me will wait for the proof: wildflowers have gotten mowed down on way too many occasions for there to have been a reasonable explanation each time.

      As you noted about the fallen tree near you, other people must have seen the Massacre on Mopac, but when I spoke with the maintenance supervisor he told me I was the only person who had said anything about it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 11, 2012 at 9:52 AM

      • If it’s true you were the only one to stand up and say something, shame on Austinites.


        February 11, 2012 at 2:05 PM

      • I don’t know if anyone complained to a different branch of TxDot or to any other agency. Probably not, I’m afraid.

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 11, 2012 at 2:18 PM

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