Once little more than a derelict site with makeshift amenities, Lighthouse View was the second Ecology Project site completed by the Friends of Fort Williams Park. It now provides a lovely view as visitors approach Portland Head Light, and is an inviting entrance to the south end of the Cliff Walk. Adjacent to the most highly trafficked area in the Park, this project provided a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness and inspire an expanded stewardship of the Park by removing exotic invasive plants and showcasing the potential of native flora.
Consisting of a diverse array of native wildflowers and grasses, the small but vibrant meadow offers a changing palette of color, and is a highly attractive habitat for pollinators and birds. In addition to landscape improvements, existing site functions were enhanced and better integrated, permitting a greater expanse of vegetation and unobstructed views from the food vendor plaza, lawn, paths and overlook.
Historic Feature: Portland Head Light
Perched atop a rocky headland at the entrance of the primary shipping channel into Portland Harbor, Portland Head Light was built between 1787 and 1791 at the directive of George Washington, and is the oldest lighthouse in Maine.
Please visit the Portland Head Light website for more information about the history of the lighthouse.
Featured Problematic Plant: black swallow-wort (Cynanchum louiseae)
Native to Eurasia, black swallow-wort is a herbaceous twining perennial vine that grows in clumps of several to many stems reaching 6 feet or more each year. It has pairs of glossy dark-green leaves and small purplish-black star-shaped flowers borne in clusters throughout summer and early fall. Pollinated flowers form long, slender, milkweed-like pods that split along a seam when ripe to reveal seeds attached to cottony parachutes that are easily set adrift by wind.
Extremely tenacious, swallow-worts have vigorous rhizomes that spread horizontally underground to sprout new plants, forming extensive patches that smother beneficial plants and prevent their regeneration. A member of the milkweed family, swallow-wort is a confusing host to the Monarch Butterfly, whose larvae can’t digest the foliage and die on the vine.
Black swallow-wort thrives throughout Fort Williams Park and adjacent coastal neighborhoods. Along with bittersweet and honeysuckle, it is a top priority for suppression.
Featured Beneficial Plant: staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta)
Native to eastern North America along dry forest edges, old fields, roadsides and railroad margins, Staghorn sumac is a small multi-trunk tree that is immediately recognizable for its fuzzy, antler-like branches, open spreading habit, and prehistoric-looking foliage that turns brilliant orange and red in fall. Greenish-yellow flowers in cone-like clusters appear in early summer and mature to velvety-red fruits that provides pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, as well as winter food for several species of mammals and birds. Tunnel-nesting bees winter in their pithy stems.
Sumac is a frequent pioneer of disturbed sites, and can be a valuable plant for reclamation projects, where it creates conditions over time that are favorable for continued succession and greater biodiversity. Although its colonizing nature can be too aggressive in a garden setting, in the Arboretum at Fort Williams Park, we have elected to save groves of sumac wherever possible for its many ornamental and ecological benefits, and only remove it where it would not be compatible with new plantings. In the Lighthouse View project, dense stands of sumac were left intact on the hillside while other areas were cleared to allow for the sowing of wildflowers and the planting of maritime shrubs.