The lupines are in bloom. Everything, actually, seems to be a lupine at the moment, turning entire hillsides violet. It is considered an invasive species, introduced in the 1860s, but for the past 60 years has been used by the Icelandic Forestry Service for erosion control and for reclaiming soil.
An old Nordic joke: if you are lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up. Iceland was once 25 to 40% covered with forests, depending on who you talk to, and the Viking sagas describe forests “from the feet of the mountains to the seashore,” when they arrived sometime between 770 and 880 AD. They were perhaps not the best stewards of their forests, but the unforgiving climate didn’t help replace what they cut down, so within 200 years the island was just about treeless, leaving the light, fragile volcanic soil at the mercy of the wind and rain. By the time the Little Ice Age happened in the 14th Century, much of the island that wasn’t lava flow was tundra or desert.
Lupines have a propensity for returning nitrogen to the soil, so they do that recharging job well, but at this point there is worry that they will displace other native plants on the island. And they’re beautiful: that distinctive, vibrant violet/lavender/heliotrope is the perfect foil for chestnut, bay, sorrel, palomino or any other color horse. It’s a color that contrasts with the green fields of the south island, and pops out of the sere treeless hillsides further north. Photographers hunt them, drive out of their way for them, get down on their bellies in the midst of them…. They just have that effect on people. So our merry busload of photographers pointed our cameras out the windows as we whizzed by violet hills, but screeched with a delight that brought the vehicle to a halt when we saw three bored horses standing in a field of them.
To find a place where you can fit horses and lupines in the same shot? Priceless!