Lupine, stately aristocrat of the early summer garden

By Tom Seymour | Jul 19, 2019
Photo by: Tom Seymour Lupine makes a fine bouquet.

The colorful spires of wild lupine, Lupinus perennis, enliven gardens, fields and roadsides. For many, blooming lupines signal the official start of summer.

Lupines have become so popular that craft shops and variety stores alike offer lupine seeds for sale. And some plant centers sell potted plants, another easy way to get lupines started.

Besides our wild lupine, the familiar blue kind of roadsides and fields, gardeners can choose a hybrid variety called Russell lupine. These come in a variety of colors, including white, blue, red, yellow and pink. Of the two, stands of wild lupine are longer-lived.

Lupine can tolerate cold down to Zone 3, making it a perfect fit for Maine. However, lupine doesn't tolerate high heat, which again, is not a problem in our Maine climate.

Lupine culture

Not everyone who tries to grow lupine is successful. Starting from seed requires soaking in warm water overnight and then plunging them in a cold moist stratification for four to six weeks. Even then, the outcome is not guaranteed.

Transplanting lupine is a bit easier, as long as it is done under cool, overcast conditions, something that Maine had in abundance this spring. If you are going to transplant or set out potted plants, choose the more colorful Russell lupine, since the wild variety only comes in shades of blue.

Wild lupine gives people problems as well, especially when starting from seed. But it needn’t be that way. Getting wild lupine started on your property is as simple as walking about and strewing ripe seed. Here’s what to do.

Wait until the flowers have faded and the plant has set seeds in seedpods. Then go to a thick stand of wild lupine and with permission, if on private property, pick as many seedpods as you can. You can also just strip the pods of seeds in the field, and that’s probably the simplest way of all.

Take more seeds than you think you will need, because it is numbers that count here. Sure, a few seeds scattered here and there may come to fruition, but probably not. So with a big bag full of seeds, walk around where you would like lupine to grow and scatter your seed. That’s all there is to it. Next year you should see seedlings here and there and the second year these will bloom. After that, your lupine will take care of itself.

In fact, after lupine becomes firmly established, it often acts like a weed, cropping up in the most unexpected places, including on lawns.

Lupine placement

Russell lupine, a hybrid, deserves a place in the perennial border. It doesn't spread as rampantly as wild lupine, so don’t worry about it taking over your bed. Russell hybrids come in varieties that range in height from 24 to 36 inches, making it a candidate for the middle of the border. Also site Russell hybrids around flowering shrubs as accents.

Wild lupine is a totally different story. If you have a meadow, scatter seeds there to transform it into a wildflower meadow. Or plant them along wood edges where they get at least a half-day of sun. And if you have road frontage, a swath of blooming wild lupine makes a pleasing sight.

Lupine uses

Lupine makes an attractive cut-flower arrangement. It’s best to use it in a standalone display. If using Russell hybrids, don’t cut the main flower spire, since that can weaken the plant. Instead, just take side shoots, perhaps one from each plant.

In the case of wild lupine, it doesn’t make much difference if you cut the entire plant, since these self-seed so readily. And a vase filled with wild lupine makes a fine sight, indeed.

Some wild lupine, notably those growing on Mt. Desert Island, have become controversial, since they spread so rapidly and thickly, thereby shading out other plants. But as far as being officially invasive, only one lupine has earned that title from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and that is western lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus.

This lupine is native to the west, but has become naturalized in the east. The plant has denser flower spires than wild lupine and comes in more colors, making it a desirable plant, or it would be if it weren’t on the invasive plant species list.

So stick to wild lupine and Russell hybrids and you’ll be fine. Lupine stands as a must-have addition to any garden or property. And as per the wild type, once established, you’ll never need to deal with them again.

Lupine is a sign of summer for many. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
Comments (4)
Posted by: Lucinda Lang | Jul 21, 2019 06:18

Hello Dale Howard...thank you for the excellent information on the sundial native lupine. There is a dire need for native plants to support insects and birds and pollinating and food for animals (humans!) .  #dougtallamy www.bringingnaturehome.net the non native lupine are not formally listed in Maine as invasive.



Posted by: Dale Hayward | Jul 20, 2019 18:52

Please read the article appearing June 24, 2019 under First Light Habitats (https://www.nrcm.org/blog/first-light-wildlife-habitats/), Nature of Maine Blog (https://www.nrcm.org/blog/). The article goes on the say:"Yo can't miss all the lovely lupines in bloom right now. They are the poster child for the quintessential Maine summer-universally loved and cherished. And who could forget Miss Rumphius (The Lupine Lady)? The prolific lupines of Maine's countryside are actually native to the West Coast and have only bee here since the 1950's. The real Miss Pumphius..................is partially responsible for "decorating" Maine with masses of these Bigleaf Lupine. Maine's true lupine is Sundial or Wild Lupine and is extirpated (locally extinct) from Maine. We can bring the wild lupine back by planting this native species in our rocky, sandy soils in full sun. Deborah Perkins, the author of this article, further writes, that she planted these in our own habitat garden last year and they are thriving. Compared to the naturalized variety, these wild lupines are small and more understand, but they pack a punch. They serve as a larval host for many species of generalist moths and butterflies. Wild lupine is also the (only) larval host for the endangered Karner blue butterfly. These can be found in the Concord Pine Barrens of New Hampshire. The plant lacks nectar, but the pollen is consumed by mining bees, and bumble bees.Did you know that lupines can actually signal to a bee that the pollen rewards are gone or almost gone? After pollination occurs, the petals change color as a way of saying "no more here, try the next flower." This re-directs the bee to a flower that needs pollination. Sometime protecting the earth can seem overwhelming. But there are things people can do in there own yard to make the world a better place for native wildlife. On her NRCM blog, Bed Perkens generously shares her 25 years of knowledge and experience with readers of this blog. The tips she provides to clients interested in creating habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife. Visit her First Light Wildlife Habitats for more information about how Deb can help you enhance your property for the benefit of native wildlife. This article is under the heading of: Natural Resources Council of Maine.

I personally am disappointed in this news because in the 1950's, and ever since we have enjoyed Lupine very much. And this is the first I have heard of this invasive beautiful flower, oh well, I guess we can now form a legislative committee to study this complex problem.



Posted by: Lucinda Lang | Jul 20, 2019 17:08

Thank you Maggie Trout for your email ...the native lupine is extinct in Maine...what we see all over the state are not native plants .....they are apparently not formally invasive on the State of Maine websites. I would NEVER ever suggest using any pesticide...I consider vinegar a pesticide...just like soap...anything that kills is a pesticide or herbicide or insecticide and they are all horrible and damaging to this one fragile earth.  Roundup should be outlawed as all of the killing chemicals "should". Humans depend on insects for the life we know...insects depend on native plants, native to each region....



Posted by: Lucinda Lang | Jul 20, 2019 08:54

LUPINE all over Maine today are not native and are now INVASIVE....they contribute only to human satisfaction while actually harming the very delicate biodiversity and habitat for insects ...birds and pollinators.  The native lupine is extinct in Maine. Please there are choices to be made...to be part of working towards solutions, or not.....https://sites.google.com/a/rsu5.org/invasive/maine-invasive-species/lupine-lupinus-polyphyllus

 



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