LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Drivers may notice a difference as they travel down Kentucky highways. The state’s transportation cabinet is developing pollinator habitats, meaning some areas off the road may look a little overgrown with wildflowers. 

What You Need To Know

  • The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has designated around 100 pollinator habitat plots

  • Most of the pollinator habitats are highly visible, along highways and near rest stop areas

  • The pollinator habitats will serve as feeding and breeding areas for pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths and flies

  • KYTC is partnering with the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves to identify additional plots and maintain them


“Kentucky is a beautiful state, and we want to show that off with our native wildflowers,” said Kentucky Transportation Cabinet environmental biologist Casey Cruikshank.

For a long time, Cruikshank explains, highways have been a habitat killer for both wildflowers and the pollinators that depend on them.

“It has really been a losing battle for pollinators in the past 20 to 30 years,” she said. “We’re trying to play catch up.”

Cruikshank and her team with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet are cutting down on mowing to allow native flowers space to thrive in around 100 plots along highways–and near parking areas and rest stops. They’re also partnering with the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves to scout more spots to turn into pollinator habitats.

Cruikshank describes the pollinator habitats her team is designating as, “Basically a place where pollinators species, your butterflies, your bees, flies, you know, all sorts of species can actually not just find a food source but find an egg laying source—basically have an entire ecosystem unto themselves.”

Cruikshank says there’s much more to the project than just cutting down on mowing. It will take some initial work and investment.

“The installation of a pollinator plot might be more expensive at first, because you have to pay for that more expensive seed and you have to maintain it, but once that pollinator is established and we don’t have to mow it but once or twice a year, it actually cuts the price over half of what we are typically paying to maintain a grass area.”

The goal is to eventually only feature wildflowers and milkweed native to Kentucky. However, the state may have to plant some non-native seeds in some plots at first.

“Some of these site conditions are so poor or so compacted that these non-native annuals really help start the plot. Then, from there, once that soil is worked up and made a little better, we can kind of start integrating our native species only,” Cruikshank explained. “We want to have those species that are native to us, our home species. It really makes a strong ecosystem. It makes a native ecosystem that is much better than, say, a non-native one or an invasive one.”

Cruikshank says the state will provide regular maintenance to the pollinator habitats to ensure they’re done right.

“We’re not just creating the plots or finding the plots and then leaving them,” she said. “Our goal is to monitor them and maintain them and to only step in and interfere with nature when it’s necessary. If we find that these plots are being overtaken by non-native species, non-native weeds, our plan is to go in and locally treat those sites.”

Cruikshank says the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has gotten questions about whether the plots could lead to more accidents with deer. While she says more research is needed, Cruikshank feels confident that shouldn’t be an issue.

“They have found in certain studies that if you plant a pollinator plot, it is actually less likely to have deer in it. Deer are actually far more attracted to that fresh cut, succulent green grass,” Cruikshank expounded. “They would rather munch on that green grass than they would munch inside a pollinator plot where things can be tough or chewy.”

She added that the transportation cabinet will continue mowing grass for about 30 feet off roadways to prevent any visibility issues.

The Louisville Zoo is active in managing pollinator habitats and encouraging others to create them anywhere they can. The zoo’s Assistant Curator of Conservation Education, Matt Lahm, says he was thrilled to hear the state will play a major part in increasing areas for pollinators to feed and breed.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Lahm said. “You think of all the, especially like,interstates you know, you think of all the green space on the sides of the roads, in between the lanes like in the median—that’s an enormous amount of land, so anything you can do to create habitat.”

Nearby states like Virginia, Indiana and Ohio already have similar programs. Cruikshank says new plots in Kentucky will help create better habitat connectivity with those neighboring states.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has created an interactive pollinator map, where people can locate the state’s pollinator habitats in their area.