Lupine flowers come in a wide variety of colors, turning gardens into blazes of color. Tall flower spikes make this show-stopping plant perfect for adding texture, visual interest and form to any garden. Wild lupine also gives mountain meadows, forests and prairies beautiful color in late spring.
In the Mediterranean region, lupine has been cultivated for at least 2,000 years. Since lupine contains high levels of bitter tasting compounds, the seed required lots of manual processing to make it palatable. In the 1920's, German plant breeders produced the first lupine capable of being directly eaten by humans or livestock.
A perennial plant from the pea family, lupine grows well in cool to mild climates in woods and prairies. The plants sport attractive green foliage with erect flower spikes growing from 1 to 4 feet tall. The flowers bloom in May or June in a variety of colors including white, purple, red, yellow and pink. Seeds form after the blooms drop. Lupine may also be found in the wild, particularly in the northern United States and southern Canada. Wild lupine typically features purple flowers.
More than 300 species of lupine exist in the world. Sweet lupine is primarily grown for its grains. Wild lupine varieties include big-leaf lupine and sundial lupine, with these varieties found across the United States.
While lupine makes a beautiful addition to any flower garden, some varieties of the plant are also harvested as a crop in several countries. The plant is grown as a grain in Russia, Poland, Germany and in the Mediterranean. In the United States, lupine is being developed for use as a flour for use in breads, cereals and pasta. In the past, lupine was used by some Native Americans to eliminate hemorrhage and vomiting. Some tribes also used the plant to fatten their horses and to make them more spirited.
Lupine grows best from seeds sowed in late winter since the seeds need a dose of cold temperatures to help them sprout. Some gardeners plant them in the fall for springtime blooms. While lupine grows in almost any soil type as long as it's well-drained, the plant thrives in sandy soil. The plant also grows best in cool to mild climates.
Butterflies such as the Karner blue butterfly and the frosted elfin butterfly rely on lupine as a host plant for their larva. Bees, hummingbirds and other types of butterflies use the plant's nectar as an important food source. Birds and small mammals eat the seeds, while deer like to nibble on the foliage.