Maine is now home to dozens of invasive species of plants and insects. These are species that didn’t evolve here, and now they’re threatening plants that did. And that threat extends to the native insects, birds and other living things that depend on those plants.
The changes, driven by a warming climate and other factors, endanger long-established ecosystems in Maine and across New England. But efforts are underway to protect and preserve the region’s native plants.
“This is called glasswort, its common name,” he said recently, bending low to the ground and plucking a fernlike fragment. He peered at it through a nickel-size magnifying glass. “It has a tiny little fruit that looks like a seed. And that’s it — just this tiny little thing that drops out, primarily by gravity, and starts the new population. This is an annual. So, it’s entirely dependent on all of those fruits produced each year.”
Haines is a Maine-based research botanist with the Native Plant Trust, a Framingham, Massachusetts-based nonprofit with a mission to save New England’s native plants by preserving their habitats and collecting and saving their seeds.
On a recent warm, late summer day, he worked a field along the shore of Portland’s Back Cove. Across the street was a Hannaford supermarket, and nearby cars whizzed along Interstate 295.
Despite that, Haines said glasswort, a type of amaranth, thrives in places like Back Cove because it’s adapted to saltier environments. But towering over the glasswort is another plant native to Europe and Asia. Haines said it’s called phragmites australis, or common reed.