“We want to preserve our Icelandic flora”

Lupins are beautiful, but they are also an invasive species. RÚV reports that the spread of lupine around the Krossanesborgir nature reserve near Akureyri in northern Iceland may well have a significant and negative impact on native plant and animal life.

‘The point of no return’

As Egill Bjarnason explained in his 2018 New York Times article on the ongoing lupine controversy in Iceland, “[t]he Nootka blue lupine is native to North America and a familiar sight in flower gardens there. They have spread wildly in Iceland since their introduction in the late 1970s to stop soil erosion.

But although the plant has positive attributes (it is a free “fertilizer plant”, as Egill explains), and although tourists and even many Icelanders love the plant for its characteristic blue-purple flowers, it spreads much more easily than originally expected and, among other places, has made significant inroads in the central highlands of Iceland, where originally it was thought it could not survive.

Locals were once encouraged to spread the seeds – some villages even handed out free spoonfuls of the seeds at service stations. But in the spring of 2018, Iceland’s Soil Conservation Service stopped its seed distribution program after 42 years, with director Arni Bragason remarking about the plant and its impact on the local environment: “We are to the point of no return”.

Timing is everything

Krossanesborgir was designated a nature reserve in 2004 to protect its diversity of plants and birds. But with the encroachment of lupine in the region, this ecosystem is now in danger, explains Jón Ingi Cæsarsson, the former chairman of Akureyri’s organizing committee.

“All the undergrowth and moorland vegetation will disappear and instead we will have these big, beautiful plants. But that’s not something we want, we want to conserve our Icelandic flora, especially in these nature reserves,” he said.

Local authorities are aware of the lupine situation and the plant is cut regularly, including in Krossanesborgir, says Rút Jónsdóttir, Akureyri’s division manager.

“We usually start [cutting back lupines] around June 15-20,” she explained. Determining the right time to start mowing is difficult, she continued: Too early, and birds will still nest in the area; too late, and the lupines will have already bloomed. (Timing is everything when it comes to eradicating lupine, says Egill. “Killing the plant is a three to five year process that involves cutting them off at peak bloom, when the plant puts its energy in flowers and roots are therefore the weakest. Mowing the plants has proven to be more effective than herbicides.”

“It will take off if we don’t control it”

Lupine has yet to make a significant breakthrough within Krossanesborgir, but Jón Ingi nevertheless fears it’s only a matter of time. About 30 species of birds nest in the area, he explained, which makes the area particularly important from a conservation standpoint.

“The lupine is out there waiting and will fly away if we get it under control. We saw what happened on Hrísey [a small island in Eyjafjörður, north of Akyreyri, known for its bird life]. The number of breeding birds will most certainly decrease [in Krossanesborgir]as it happened there.

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