The Story Behind Georgia's Wildflower-Lined Highways
As you begin to head out for summer vacation, take notice of the wildflowers that line highways throughout the state. Did you know these flowers are intentionally planted?
All of the wildflowers you see in the medians along Georgia’s highways are a part of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s (GDOT) Wildflower Program.
The Birth of the Wildflower Program
Virginia Hand Callaway established the Wildflower Program in 1974. At the time, she was the chair of the Birds and Wildflowers Committee of The Garden Club of Georgia. Her intention was to plant and preserve wildflowers growing along the roads. Other members of the Garden Club of Georgia, including former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, helped Mrs. Callaway present her idea to the GDOT Commissioner. The program was approved and shortly after GDOT began maintaining the wildflowers along Georgia’s highways.
Support the Wildflower Program
Today, the program is flourishing and GDOT continues to plant and take care of the wildflowers along Georgia’s roadsides.
Donate to the Fund
If you’d like to support the program, you can make direct donations to the GDOT Wildflower Program. Checks should be made payable to the GDOT Roadside Enhancement & Beautification Fund and mailed to:
Georgia DOT Wildflower Program
Office of Maintenance
One Georgia Center
600 West Peachtree Street, Suite 1044
Atlanta, GA 30308
Your donations will help continue keeping Georgia’s roadsides looking beautiful.
Purchase a Wildflower Tag
If you’d like to outwardly show support of the program, you can purchase a Wildflower Tag through Georgia’s Department of Revenue (DOR). The Wildflower Program offers two tag options: the Purple Coneflower Tag or the Black Eyed Susan Tag. You can visit your local County Tag Office to purchase your tag. Each tag costs $80 initially and $35 each year thereafter. Proceeds from tag purchases support enhancement projects that research the importance of planting native flora, trees, and shrubs.
The Poppy Lady: Red Poppies to Commemorate Veterans
GDOT recently worked with the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission to plant red poppies along U.S. Highway 78, also known as Moina Michael Highway, in Walton County. Moina Michael, a Walton County resident and long-time University of Georgia (UGA) faculty member, suggested planting red poppies in remembrance of the servicemen who died during World War I.
Ms. Michael took a leave of absence from UGA, when the United States entered the war in 1917, to volunteer to help train overseas YWCA workers. Upon her arrival back in Georgia after the war, she returned to UGA to teach a class of disabled servicemen. During that time, she recognized the financial and occupational need servicemen needed after returning home from war and began selling silk poppies to raise money for disabled veterans.
In 1921, the American Legion Auxiliary adopted the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans.
Ms. Michael received numerous awards and recognitions throughout her life and was lovingly known as the “Poppy Lady” for her humanitarian efforts to commemorate veterans.
Just after her death in 1944, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 3-cent stamp to honor her achievements. A section of U.S. Highway 78 was named the Moina Michael Highway by Georgia’s General Assembly in 1969, and in 1999 she was named to the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame.
Now you know the reason for all of the wildflowers. So next time you’re driving on one of Georgia’s highways and see wildflowers, take a minute to stop and smell the roses. (Just don’t pick them!)
About the Authors
Chelsea Stephens is the Marketing & Training Lead for Digital Services Georgia. A Georgia native herself, Chelsea enjoys writing on topics that citizens and visitors of Georgia can enjoy and learn from.