A different kind of bank opened in Acadiana Tuesday, one officials say will pay dividends for years to come to those drive the state's highways.
The bank that officials from state government and three universities gathered to officially open is the Wildflower Seed Bank, located outside Cade at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's Experimental Farm.
The seeds harvested and stored there will be used to plant wildflowers along the state's highways.
The seed bank project was started in 2005 when DOTD received a $1.7 million federal highway beautification grant. Of that, $940,000 went into purchasing equipment used to renovate an unused dairy barn on the farm and convert it into the new seed bank.
It will include seed processors, walk-in storage units that can keep harvested seeds viable for years and research labs with specialized equipment.
Durga Poudel, director of the UL Experimental Farm, said the project had them gathering wildflower seeds from across Louisiana over the past 13 years, which they have planted on over 22 acres of seed plots at the experimental farm. Over one ton of seeds were harvested and planted for the project and the bank has already harvested more than 500 pounds of wildflower seeds that are available to be planted.
“Wildflowers not only add to the natural beauty, but they also save money on grass mowing and are better for the environment. This is the only facility in the state specializing and storing wildflower seeds, so it is very special,” Poudel said.
By cutting down on the amount of mowing along Louisiana’s highways, DOTD officials say the initiative will lead to more beautiful highways, with the added bonuses of saving money on fuel and reducing emissions from mowers, which will be good for the environment.
Some of the notable Louisiana wildflowers that are being grown, harvested and stored at the bank include clasping coneflower and plains coreopsis.
Similar projects have seen great success in other states, most notably in neighboring Texas.
Their wildflower project, which was started in 1932, has led to peak wildflower blooming season that attract tourists from across the US to the Lone Star State every year. Texas’ DOTD also boasts the savings the state sees by not needing to mow during wildflower season.
Louisiana's wildflower seed bank project is a cooperative endeavor between UL Lafayette, UL Monroe, Southeastern Louisiana University and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie said the bank’s opening is important not just for the schools involved, but also for Louisiana as a whole.
“This will help develop sustainable beautification efforts for our highways and roads that’ll improve not only the horticulture and sustainability of the property around the roads, it’ll also make it more attractive for visitors,” Savoie said.
Joshua Hollins, legislative liaison for DOTD, said the collaboration between DOTD, UL-Lafayette and the other universities will yield benefits for our state for many years to come.”