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September 29. 2013 6:35PM

Highway flowers

Official: NH highway sunflowers are no cause for concern


State wildlife officials say they're not too concerned about the sunflowers, like the ones seen on Route 101 in Epping, attracting bears and other animals. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

When Doug Pryce first spotted a patch of sunflowers on a drive north on Interstate 89, he said his first thought was, "Wow! That's impressive!"

But then he wondered, "Who in their right mind would plant wildlife food on the median of an interstate?"

Many drivers have enjoyed watching the sunflowers blooming over the past several weeks in flower beds in median strips on seven of New Hampshire's busy highways, but others, like Pryce, worry the sunflowers will attract wildlife.

"Not only will that attract a plethora of rodents, but I would imagine the bears would find it fascinating. I'm glad I only drive that interstate during the daylight," said Pryce, of Bedford.

Kent Gustafson, wildlife program supervisor for the state's Fish and Game Department, agrees that planting sunflowers on highways isn't a good idea, but he's not overly concerned.

"If they were planting apple trees out there that would be a different story," Gustafson said.

The sunflowers and other flowers were planted along Route 101 in Epping, Interstate 93 in Lincoln and Tilton, Interstate 89 in Hopkinton and Springfield, Route 12 in North Charlestown, and on the Everett Turnpike in Merrimack.

The flower beds are part of the state Department of Transportation's effort to beautify New Hampshire highways.

Many motorists fell in love with the sunflowers, but some posed safety hazards when they pulled over and crossed the highways to take pictures. Police are now warning drivers not to stop.

According to state transportation officials, the sunflowers were never supposed to be planted. The state put together a list of seeds it wanted in the seed mix and hired a nursery to plant and maintain the beds. Sunflower seeds somehow ended up in the mix provided by the nursery's seed supplier.

While the sunflowers will attract birds and other small mammals looking for seeds, Gustafson said deer and moose aren't a big concern.

Bears would be the only large animal that may be interested in the sunflowers, Gustafson said, but he's not too worried because the flower beds are relatively small.

"A bear would have to stumble across them, but once they realized there were sunflowers there they would check them out to see if there are seeds," Gustafson said.

Bears are feeding heavily this time of year as they prepare to hibernate for the winter.

Fortunately, Gustafson said the sunflower heads don't last a long time so "it's not like the flower heads have edible seeds all summer long."

"Certainly it would be better if they weren't there. It sounds like the sunflowers wound up there by accident anyhow. The flower patches themselves attract butterflies, insects and bees and they're nice to look at. In general I think they're good," he said.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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