Restoring Native Plants in the Great Meadow Wetland

Looking across the swaying grasses and brilliant blooming shrubs of the Great Meadow, you might think the wet meadow is in pristine condition. But, decades of disturbances have altered the way water flows through the wetland. Old road beds, ditches, and an undersized culvert at the outlet of the meadow cause highly variable water depths throughout the year. The wetland now drains too quickly during dry periods, and yet floods during heavy rain events that are becoming more common under climate change. Many native plants can’t handle these new conditions, and invasive species are threatening to take over.

In 2023, we will begin restoring native plants in areas where invasive species have recently been a problem. In future years we will expand restoration to areas disturbed during construction associated with other improvements to the meadow (e.g., trail improvements). Restoring native plants will have four primary benefits for the Great Meadow Wetland.
two rangers walking through wetland full of plants
Park staff surveying wetland vegetation for invasive species.

Will Greene, Friends of Acadia

Restoring Wetland Plant Diversity and Ecological Communities

Years of research in the wetlands throughout Acadia show that plants that grow in wetlands
with less human disturbance, such as wooly-fruited sedge (Carex lasiocarpa), can’t tolerate the swings between dry and wet in the Great Meadow. Instead, stress-tolerant plants – for example plants found commonly in roadside ditches such as lake sedge (Carex lacustris) and invasive species such as glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) - are now abundant throughout the wetland. Restoring species typical of less disturbed wetlands is a primary goal of the Great Meadow restoration project, not only to help the plants return to Great Meadow, but because these species can also support healthier populations of bugs, birds, and bats.

Preventing the Reinvasion of Invasive Species

Acadia National Park spends significant resources each year controlling invasive plants in the Great Meadow. But, the invasive nature of these plants means control efforts are temporary. Restoring native plants after invasive species have been removed can prevent these undesirable species from returning, and reduce the resources needed for invasive species management in the park. Acadia National Park, Friends of Acadia, and Schoodic Institute are evaluating multiple methods of native plant restoration to determine which method is most effective at reducing reinvasion. This scientific approach to restoration helps the park learn about the best management approaches without delaying action.
small seedling in dirt round sits along side of a trail
Native plants are often planted during restoration projetcs to help control erosion and improve habitat quality.

Ashley L. Conti, Friends of Acadia

Increasing the Cultural Value of the Wetland

Acadia National Park is the homeland of the Wabanaki, the People of the Dawn, whose relationship with park nature is fundamental to their culture and everyday lives. The Great historically was part of an important canoe travel route, and the meadow hosted culturally important plant and animal species. Native plant restorations can help support the cultural values of the Great Meadow.

Preparing the Wetland for Future Climates

To provide the benefits for people and wildlife described above, native plants must be able to survive and reproduce in a rapidly changing climate. However, many plants could suffer as temperatures warm and precipitation patterns change, which not only threatens the success of native plant restorations, but the health of Great Meadow as a whole. To minimize this threat, Acadia National Park, Friends of Acadia, and Schoodic Institute are evaluating whether planting species that are more common in warmer environments south of the park or using individuals grown in warm nurseries can help sustain the long-term health of the wetland. In ten years, when you look across the Great Meadow, you’ll still see swaying grasses and brilliant blooming shrubs, and many visitors will still think the Great Meadow is a thriving ecosystem. But, this time they’ll be right. Many of the grasses and shrubs will be different, the wetland will be healthier, and native plant restorations will be one reason for the positive change.

Acadia National Park

Last updated: April 25, 2023