Dec 07, 2016

The Perfect Mix

West Virginia University researchers assess wildflower reseeding mixtures

“Almost Heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.” The lyrics to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”—not surprisingly, West Virginia’s theme song—echo the allure of the Mountain State from start to finish. If you have never been to West Virginia, you are missing out on beautiful rolling hills, vast wildlife, and my personal favorite—the wildflowers. Sadly, wildflowers and other native plant species have become increasingly rare. One of the most concerning reasons for this is that highly invasive plant species have been spread along roadways and construction sites for years. These plant species cover and spread quickly—exactly what you want to prevent erosion. However, is it worth the consequences?

Last summer, I had the privilege of helping preserve the beauty of West Virginia by developing and testing new seed mixtures in an attempt to remove invasive species from the West Virginia Div. of Highway’s seed mixtures while maintaining diversity and performance. As an undergraduate research assistant at West Virginia University, I worked with Leslie Hopkinson, Ph.D.; undergraduate research assistant Adam Strong; and two graduate research assistants, George Hilvers and Eric Davis.

Together, Hopkinson, Hilvers and Davis researched and developed seed mixtures combining native and minimally invasive plant species that would still effectively germinate and provide long-term cover. Five different mixtures were developed for various uses—mowable areas, cool and warm season cut and fill slopes, high elevation, and wet areas.

Strong and I then assisted in testing the new mixtures for overall performance. The test plan involved digging, identifying grass species by their blades and checking 100 spots for vegetation in almost 70 subplots every two weeks.

The 70 subplots were divided into four main test plots. These plots were designed to test different scenarios: a test for high elevation, a test for various soils and soil amendments, a test to compare soil versus no topsoil and straw versus hydraulic erosion control products, and a test just for the seed mixtures. In addition to the biweekly percent cover analysis, ambient air temperature, precipitation, soil temperature and soil moisture were recorded.

After a summer of data collection and assessment, we evaluated our results. The developed seed mixtures germinated and covered as well, if not better, than the current mixtures. Taking price, germination and overall cover into consideration, the cool season mixture—a mix of fescues, white clover, redtop and birdsfoot trefoil—produced the most favorable results. Testing of the new mixtures will continue over the next few years. Hopefully these mixtures will be adopted in the near future.

I was honored to be a part of this research to preserve the natural plant species of West Virginia. Hopefully, from this research and many more environmental efforts, big and small, the beauty of West Virginia will continue to be known and sung for generations to come. 

About the author

Joanna Graham is a civil and environmental engineering major at West Virginia University. Graham can be reached at [email protected].