The lupine wildflower is the topic of children's stories and also shows up in antiquated farmers' lore, when those who worked the soil believed the flowering perennials to leech much-needed nutrients from the fields' soil. Today the flower is an integral member of various ecosystems and also features in the farming industry. Since it thrives in an array of soil conditions, it is an easy plant to spot in the wild.
The lupine wildflower is a member of the fabaceae family of plants, which also includes peas, beans and other legumes. Lupines are herbaceous perennial plants that sprout each year in the middle of April. Flowers come in a wide variety of colors--lavender, deep purple or blue, red and white are common--and grow on spikes. Look for blooms to reach their peaks in the middle to end of May.
Lupines grow in the United States as well as eastern Canada. As a rule of thumb, the plants thrive in growing zones 3 through 9. They prefer hillsides and meadows; plants do well in sandy soils with pH levels below 6.8. It is interesting to note that lupines grow in mountainous areas just as well as along the banks of streams. Canopy vegetation that interferes with full-sun growth conditions that these plants require can result in sickly plants, which fail to flower and eventually die back.
Lupines attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) in particular depends exclusively on the blue lupine (Lupinus perennis) for support of its life cycle. Each year, butterfly larvae consume the leaves of the plants. The lupines hold the pupae, serve as nourishment for the new generation of butterflies, feature as depositories for butterfly eggs and then allow a second generation of Karner blues to repeat the process until the fall.
An old myth suggested that lupines leeched desirable nutrients from farming soil. It is possible this lore sprang up due to the fact that the plants thrive in even sandy and soils generally considered sterile. Nowadays farmers cultivate some lupines---most commonly the white (L. albus L.) and blue (L. angustifolius) varieties---as crops. Seeds become feed for turkey, lamb and swine, while grazing animals consume the leaves.
Lupine flour is a specialty item in some food markets that cater to a health-conscious clientele. The flour is high in protein, which makes it a good additive to durum wheat for pasta making or pastry baking. However, humans should not consume large quantities of the raw seeds. Alkaloids in the unprocessed seeds lead to sleepiness and adverse effects on the cardiovascular system.