Oh happy, day, oh happy day. The lilacs are out at my house.

This year, the floral display is a little bit extra because the hawthorn bush has grown up and interwoven with the lilac so there are delicate white blossoms wound around the heavy purple clusters. It is really special.

Midcoast resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at heather@heatherdmartin.com.

Lilacs are one of those plants that occupy a special place. They are absolutely everywhere – but manage to remain extraordinarily special. With their relatively short bloom cycle, they are decidedly linked with summer – and they have managed to dig in their roots to the part of the brain that is linked to nostalgia. Lilacs are warm and sunny days, cool glasses of homemade lemonade, and a calmer, gentler time gone by. If ever I am sad, all I have to do is stand among the lilacs and all is right with the world again.

For a plant as strongly associated with Maine summers, it might come as a shock to realize that it is not native.  Nope. They are interlopers from Eastern Europe. However, they are so very lovely, not considered invasive, and have been here for so long everyone pretty much agrees that they are welcome. This might not have been their origin spot, but it has become their home.


Not so fortunate are a few other favorites of mine, the lovely Rosa Ragusa to name but one. You probably already know this, right? Sigh. This plant, this plant which I love, we have to pause so I can talk about why I love it.


For starters, it is beautiful. It comes in many shades of pink and a dazzling white. It smells divine. It has a long growing season and the hips can be used as well and, most importantly (if you tend to kill plants the way I do) it is really easy to grow. Ironically, that is also sort of the problem.

This plant which I love is crazy invasive. The Rugosa Rose is invasive in a way which threatens other plants – so much so that its bad behavior has landed it on the “advisory list” for Maine, which is different from the legal “do not sell” list; but should give us all pause before planting.

The advisory list, easily found with a quick search to maine.gov, is sort of a downer if I am being totally honest. I mean, among the plants listed as non-native and potentially problematic we find the Western Lupine. Yeah. You read that a’right. Miss Rumphius has some explaining to do. Though, perhaps she was spreading the native species of lupine which, thanks to the Wild Seed Project, we can find.

The list raises some tricky questions though: when we find a species we adore listed as a problem, should we plant it?

OK, so you’d think that question is an easy one: no. Interestingly, there is a much bigger and more nuanced debate happening right now, from people who are genuinely trying to figure out what is best.

After all, with climate change we are seeing not only a change in our storm cycles, but a massive shift in the growing zones. Plants, like animals, are moving north. This has profound implications when we start discussing what “belongs.” If a long established plant can no longer tolerate Maine summers, should we be looking to plant other things which can?


I myself am not a botanist. My interest in this is partly aesthetic and partly a sense of obligation and duty to the land itself. My home. Mortgage or not, it seems silly to talk about “ownership” when the land was here long before me and will be here long, long after me. I am a steward at best.

But I want to be a good one.

So, downer or not, I have made it a practice to check the website before making any plant purchases. I trust the botanists making the list, and although I am watching the broader debate, I will err on the side of conservation and stick with the plants that get the green thumbs up.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some lilac bushes out there in the sunshine calling my name.

Comments are not available on this story.