The members of the pea family of plants known as lupines acquired their curious name from the Latin word "Lupus," which means wolf. People thought that the plants severely depleted the mineral content of the surrounding soil and named it for the canine predator that would gobble up whatever food was available. However, the lupines are legumes, and in reality take nitrogen from the air and convert it into nutrients in the soil.
Look at the leaves of the lupines, and you will think of the fingers of a hand open wide. The leaves all radiate from a central position on the stem, like the spokes of a wagon wheel. The flowers grow on erect stalks that can be 5 feet high in some species, with the flowers covering at least a foot of the stalk near the top. Lupines resemble the flowers of peas, with the colors depending on the species. Bluepod lupine, for example, is a sky blue color, while other types may be purple, yellow, white or pink.
The majority of the more than 130 species of lupines grow in the West in the United States. In the East, a type of lupine called wild lupine grows from Maine to Florida. It is the sole common lupine in that part of the nation. According to the Desert USA website, 70 species of lupine exist in California alone, with another 23 in Arizona, Among them is desert lupine, which will be abundant during years with enough rain in places such as the Sonoran Desert.
Plant lupines from seeds at any time during the growing season, and you should experience positive results. Sow the seeds shallow and wait for the plants to emerge. Transplant the rootstock of established lupines in the spring. Keep lupines in full sun if possible but realize that they can grow in partial shade. Put them in settings where the soil is dry and sandy for the best results but water them as they develop.
Replenish the soil around your lupines each year with fresh manure, and the plants will flourish with little maintenance after you do so. Group your lupines together in your garden and try arranging them so they dominate at least one of the borders. Utilize lupines near ponds so that the erect stalks will cast a reflection into the water when they bloom.
Watch for the many species of butterflies and moths that will visit your lupines to partake of the flower's nectar. Pay attention for the presence of hummingbirds that come to the lupines as well. Remember though that although mammals such as whitetail deer and many kinds of birds can eat the seeds from lupine, they are toxic to people. Ingesting the seeds can precipitate symptoms such as a slowed heartbeat and convulsions due to the presence of alkaloids in their makeup.