If you’ve read any of my posts from my Gardens vertical, you’ll know how much I love admiring flowers, learning about the varieties of blooms that grow around the world, and how much I love appreciating the care and consideration that goes into cultivating organized flower beds at ornamental and public gardens. Just as much, I love enjoying wildflowers in their natural habitat, unspoiled by human intervention, popping up of their own accord, and growing how they please. That’s why when we visited Maine for my birthday, I was so thrilled to see meadow after meadow bursting with colorful lupine flowers.
While exploring Acadia National Park, we learned that there was once a native species of lupine in Maine, called Sundial or Wild Lupine, however, it is almost entirely extinct from Maine. Localized extinction of a native plant, which is called extirpation, caused native lupine to nearly disappear, opening up a gap in the ecosystem which was filled by ornamental Big Leaf Lupine, which is native to the Western Coast of the United States and Canada.
In fact, Big Leaf Lupine, which now blankets much of Maine and the East Coast in late spring, is an invasive species that began taking over and crowding out other plants in the 1950s, when it became a popular ornamental flower. While invasive species generally get a bad rap for forcing out native species or taking up resources causing native species to die, these Big Leaf Lupine aren’t all that bad. They fit so well in Maine’s eco-system that they’ve helped native bees, bumblebees, and even honeybees increase in population, which is great for us because pollinators like bees are the reason we have food, flowers, and medicinal plants!
It’s not a good idea to intentionally introduce invasive species to any area where they don’t belong, because there’s no way of telling how much havoc they can wreak on local flora and fauna. However, in rare instances like this, there aren’t many issues with new plants when they’re introduced. In fact, the abundant lupine in Maine are a massive tourism draw, which benefits the local economy, and is also of course a wonderful sight to behold for visitors like us.
While we carefully tiptoed through the narrow path that wove in and out through the lupine meadow, we noticed hundreds of bumblebees and honey bees floating lazily from lupine bloom to bloom, carrying lots of pollen on their little fuzzy legs. I’m allergic to bees, so this was a bit scary to me, but they didn’t pay any attention to us, except for one little honey bee that landed on my arm and walked with me for a bit, taking a break from his work before flying off again.
From one of my ecology classes, I learned that lupine blooms communicate with pollinators like bees by changing colors once there is no more pollen left inside each bloom, and the pollinators, which are drawn to colorful blooms, go straight to the colorful, pollen-filled blooms, instead of going bloom to bloom and finding many empty. This not only expedites pollination, but it also saves birds, bees, and other pollinators energy which increases their success. In this rare case, an invasive species, like these beautiful lupine, are actually good for the environment!