Tuesday, June 9, 2015

June 9, 2015 - Lupine

What a quandary.  June is the month of the lupine here in Maine.  Everywhere you look, the countryside is lit up like fire with millions upon millions of lupines.  Most are brilliant purple, although some are pink and blue.  Every year I hunger to see the lupine because I know that the warm weather has truly arrived, and the dog days of summer are soon to follow.

But it’s a quandary.  For all of its good qualities, the lupine has bad qualities as well.  That the lupine is beautiful and creates a heavenly vision, no one can argue.  It is also extremely prolific and helps to hold soil in place in disturbed areas.  The bees love it and it helps to feed them.  It also improves soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen in its root nodules.  It’s wonderful for helping to colonize volcanic ash and turn an otherwise inhospitable area into a field of greenery.

A field of lupines.

But it comes at a price because the lupine has a dark side.  Lupine grows so very quickly that it takes over areas at an alarming rate and excludes many plants, especially those that grow slowly.  One of those slow-growing plants happens to be native milkweed, the only source of food for the monarch butterfly.  Maine is at the northern end of the 2,000-mile-long migration of the monarch butterfly, and they really need that milkweed when they get here.  Lupine is also known to make farm animals sick and decreases the value of hay if it is in any great amount in a field.  Many of the native grasses and lichens in Maine that thrive in poor soil find the soil too fertile near lupines.  Did you ever think that too-fertile soil would be a problem?  It can be.

And then there’s the blueberry.  Blueberries are the biggest crop in Maine, with potatoes playing a close second.  It’s those special little tiny wild Maine blueberries--you know the ones that people from away pay exorbitant amounts to get?  Those indescribably delicious, nutritionally loaded little wild blueberries that favor the cold Maine climate?  When lupine gets a hold of their fields, it can wreak havoc.  Areas that were once covered with blueberries can disappear quickly because of the lupine.

There are some rare grasses that grow only in Maine and nowhere else in the world, such as the Orono sedge.  Who knows what we might someday learn from this rare grass?  Don’t forget that wheat is also a grass.  Maybe learning the unique qualities of grasses which have been untouched by time could someday help us in improving wheat in a sustainable and healthy way.  But the lupine is edging the Orono sedge out slowly but surely.  And that’s just one of the unique plants that grow only in cold-loving Maine.

Still . . . I can’t help but adore the lupine.  My eyes are drawn to its fantastic beauty.  I’m afraid this photo doesn’t nearly capture the stunning qualities of the lupine up close and personal.  There has to be a way that we, as good stewards of the land, can allow the lupine to flourish and yet safeguard the other rare beauties of Maine.  For now, I will just enjoy the sight of the lupine, but I will not spread its seed (as so many people mistakenly do out of romantic fantasies) or purposely cultivate it.  It is meant to be admired from afar.

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