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Catch the buzz: New MDOT flower project is all about feeding the bees

Sunflowers on the shoulder of a highway
Jocelyn Hall
“They not only grew really, really well, but they were also a great food source for honeybees," Hall said about the sunflowers that can be seen along some Michigan highways.";

The Next Idea

Scientists have known for a while that America’s bee population is in trouble — some types are even ending up on the endangered species list. Pollinator insects like bees are crucial to food production, and, in agricultural states like Michigan, keeping that population alive and healthy is a big deal.

A small but colorful pilot project at the Michigan Department of Transportation aims to provide some late season meals for those hard-working bees. 

Jocelyn Hall, an MDOT Bay Region employee, joined Stateside to talk about the sunflowers that are cropping up along freeways.

While it’s too soon to know if these flowers are directly boosting the honeybee population, Hall said that the flowers are clearly popular as a food source.

“When we’ve been out checking out the success of the plants, it’s hard to find a flower head that doesn’t have a honeybee or two on it,” Hall said.

The timing of the program came at a good time, too, according to Hall. The weekend prior to the news release about the program, there were six additional species of honeybee added to the endangered list.

“The timing was incredibly crucial to really send home the message that this was something important that we were doing,” Hall said. “It wasn’t just something fun and colorful — it really provides a purpose.”

MDOT is already looking to the future with this program, aiming to expand the program across the state and to plant perennials to help the flowers become self-sustaining.

The Next Idea is Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.

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