Lupines (lupins) have been in cultivation in both the old and new worlds for more than four thousand years. Lupine seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs and in Peru, the National Museum of Lima displays leaf imprints of Andean pearl lupine (also called ”Tarwi”) as evidence of use in pre-Incan cultures.
There are hundreds of wild and cultivated varieties of lupines in nearly every corner of the earth. Most modern cultivars used for landscape gardens retain the alkaline characteristics of wild lupines, making them unsuitable for use as a grain but an excellent green manure and nitrogen fixer for depleted soils. Lupine's history of cultivation and its ability to thrive in many environments allows for a wide and often whimsical palette, and gardeners can select subspecies in a variety of colors.
Like other legumes, lupine root systems have nodules of bacteria on their root systems. These bacteria (Bradyrhizobium, in the case of lupines) store nitrogen from the air to help feed the plant, which then returns the nitrogen to the beds when it is plowed under or otherwise reincorporated into the soil. Lupines thrive in poor soils, preparing nature's flower beds for future diversity.
Some varieties are deer and drought resistant, and all lupines attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other native pollinators. Due to lupine's ability to thrive in poor, acidic soils, they are fantastic additions to rock gardens and brighten up the far corners and back borders of garden beds.
Lupines are upright plants, growing as tall as two or three feet in height. Their trumpet-shaped flowers emerge from slender, cone-shaped spikes, above graceful, compound leaves.
Following are a few of the most popular lupine cultivars.
English horticulturist George Russell improved upon Lupinus polyphyllus, a subspecies native to the American west. The results are commonly called the "Russell hybrids" or "garden lupines". This robust variety blooms in various shades of pink, blue, red & yellow.
If you're looking for an annual, the diminutive Pixie Delight (Lupinus hartwegii nanus) is more subtle in stature and coloration. Its colors are more muted than many of the lupine varieties, and the plant itself rarely grows beyond 18 inches in height.
Pixie Delight's blooms and foliage tend to outlast its bolder, larger cousins and naturalizes easier than most. They say big surprises come in small packages. With its ability to send up branched flower spikes, this fast-growing, easily-cultivated lupine never fails to please.
Horticulturist George Russell tried to breed the blues out of his lupines. For those of us who adore deep blues and indigos, Arroyo is our answer.
A stunning, often multi-branching annual, Arroyo lupines (Lupinus succulentus) offer the same, fast-growing qualities of Pixie Delight, but with a larger-than-life growth habit of up to 48 inches.
The perennial counterpart to Arroyo is Lupinus perennis. Native to the eastern half of North America, where it has been in rapid decline since the Industrial Age, this variety is a favorite food of the endangered Karner blue butterfly.
Also known as Sundial Lupines, these graceful, tall (up to 36") perennials bloom with graceful, airy spacing between each flower. These perennials concentrate their energy on deep roots for the plants the first year; blue, lavender and sometimes pale pink flowers reward patient gardeners after the first season.
Nothing brightens the garden as do annual yellow lupines (Lupinus densiflorus aureus), whether planted alone or mixed in to complement the blues and indigos of Arroyo or Wild Lupines.
Growing to 36 inches, these bolts of sunshine grow as rapidly and bloom as profusely as other annual lupines.
If you can't decide upon a single variety, look for a quality mix of annual and perennial lupines. Layering different flower colors, leaf textures and plant heights in your garden will draw attention from a wider variety of pollinating insects and hummingbirds, but be prepared for the fawning attention of neighbors and guests.
Aside from their spectacular flowers and showy foliage, the soil-building benefits of lupines make them an excellent choice for the wilder, uncultivated corners of your garden. Don't coddle these beauties; lupines do best in well-drained, clay-type soils.
Want to learn more about lupines? Are you looking to add biodiversity to your garden with plants that do more than please the eye? Reach out to us! We're proud to offer high-quality, fresh, non-GMO seeds, sourced from hardy, healthy plants.