“There’s lots of spaces where solar could be integrated with really innovative uses of land,” said Brendan O’Neill, a University of Michigan environmental scientist who’s monitoring how planting at a new 1,752-panel facility in Cadillac, Michigan, stores carbon.

Silflower was among native plants that blanketed the vast North American prairie until settlers developed farms and cities. Nowadays confined largely to roadsides and ditches, the long-stemmed cousin of the sunflower may be poised for a comeback, thanks to solar energy, reports the AP.

Researchers are growing silflower at nine solar installations in the Minneapolis area, testing its potential as an oilseed crop. The deep-rooted perennial also offers forage for livestock and desperately needed habitat for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

“We need a lot of plots spaced pretty far apart to measure silflower’s effects on pollinators,” said crop scientist Ebony Murrell of The Land Institute, a research nonprofit. “The solar industry is interested in restoring pollinator habitat. This seemed to be a good partnership.”

Solar is a renewable energy source that can help wean the world off fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases. But it also could benefit the environment and economy in ways not as well known.

As the industry grows, solar arrays will sprawl across millions of acres (hectares) — wasting farmland, critics say. But advocates see opportunities to diversify crop production and boost landowner income, while repairing ecological damage to ground plowed under or paved over.

“There’s lots of spaces where solar could be integrated with really innovative uses of land,” said Brendan O’Neill, a University of Michigan environmental scientist who’s monitoring how planting at a new 1,752-panel facility in Cadillac, Michigan, stores carbon.

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