Lupine: Showy spring pollinator

Growing food crops alongside native plants is a popular gardening activity. A flowering plant that is native to several regions is the lupine. Not only does it attract pollinators that aid in food production, but it also fixes nitrogen in the soil of your garden.

Lupine is a North American favorite. Texas calls one species its state plant. In the eastern part of the country, L. perennis is a common hybrid that grows wild on dunes, open forest floors and savannahs in the Pacific Northwest. Another, L. polyphyllus (also a hybrid) grows in colder regions of Canada and the western United States. This is proof that lupins thrive all over the North American continent.

Unmistakable on all lupins are their palm-like leaves and the colorful spikes of lively flowers that bloom in spring. From March to May I like to stop at a hill where Texas Bluebonnets gather. The sight and smell of an entire hill covered in Texas bluebonnet is truly breathtaking. I have no doubt that other species of lupins in North America and Europe offer similar visual stimuli.

Whether you are growing hybrids (like Lupinus polyphyllus) or a specific flower color, there is a lot to choose from when it comes to lupins. There are large and dwarf varieties. Spikes bloom in yellow, blue, pink, and purple. Fill your garden with large yellow or pink hybrids that bloom year after year, or try a variety of colors from western US hybrids.

Good Products on Amazon for Growing Lupins:

Brief instructions for care

Lupinus perennis is known as a wild lupine. Source: dogtooth77

Common names Bluebonnet, lupine, lupine
Scientific name Lupinus spp
family Fabaceae or the pea family
Height & Spread 1 to 7 feet high, 1 to 1.5 feet wide
Bright Full sun to partial shade
floor Well drained, slightly acidic
water 1 inch per week
Pests & Diseases Anthracnose, powdery mildew, lupine root beetle, aphids

Everything about lupine

Lupinus texensisThe lupine called Lupinus texensis is sometimes called the Texas Bluebonnet. Source: Abbamous

Here we focus on Lupinus species that are native to North America. The Latin word Lupinus means wolf, based on the earlier belief that lupins ravage the soil in which they are found. Not so. They don't gobble up the soil, but since they're related to pea plants, they provide nitrogen.

The four specific plants we are discussing here are known by their Latin names as Lupinus polyphyllus, Lupinus perennis, Lupinus arboreus, and Lupinus texensis. These are called lupins, lupins, and Lupinus texensis is commonly known as the Texas bluebonnet.

Lupins are perennial. Especially if you plant a lupine native to your area, you can enjoy it every spring season. Lupins have palmate leaves that lie low on the ground. Lupine flowers are lively spikes with 1 to 2 centimeters long flowers with colors ranging from deep blue to yellow. Some varieties have white markings on the flowers. When the spring flowers die, a fuzzy seed pod is created to spread the lupine seeds for the next spring. Each pod contains about 12 seeds. None of the plants are edible to humans and seeds are particularly poisonous.

Lupins reach a height of 1 foot to 7 feet and a width of at least 1 foot to 1.5 feet. They spread easily in your perennial garden. A large lupine spot attracts native bees and beehives to your garden to help pollinate food crops. Hummingbirds and butterflies flock to lupins too. They are a great plant to add to a successor garden as they add nitrogen content to your soil.

Grow lupins in a garden bed, container, or grow bag. If you grow in a container, you can experiment with different lighting situations. You can also bring in lupins in winter to keep the root structure safe and intact. However, you need to keep them in check in a container as they will be quickly tied to the root if they are continuously reproduced for too long.

Types of lupins

Lupinus polyphyllus hybridsHybrids of Lupinus polyphyllus can be a variety of colors. Source: Tim Waters

There are too many species of lupins to cover all of them here. So we're going to discuss a few different types.

Lupinus polyphyllus is a hybrid also known as the large-leaved lupine or Russell lupine. It grows in the western United States and from southern Alaska to British Columbia, and in the east to Quebec. There are several variations of Russell L. polyphyllus. Chances are you will find a signature lupine in your residential area. The colors of the Russell flowers vary widely. Some are deep blue or purple and others are white and fuchsia. There are also dwarf varieties such as minarets here.

Lupinus perennis, or wild lupine, is specific to the eastern coast of North America, from Texas to Labrador. In contrast to other lupine species, the flower spikes of L. perennis are more sparse than compact. Most varieties have a blue-white flower. Some are white, purple, or pink. Wild lupins are important to many different species of Lepidoptera. In fact, this lupine is home to caterpillars of the critically endangered Karner blue butterfly – a great choice for the people of the east coast.

Lupinus arboreus or tree lupine is an interesting species in the genus Lupinus. It grows up to 7 feet tall and is native to Northern California and grows on sand dunes and alongside the sage scrub on the coast. Flowers are sparse and either yellow or purple. Because it is so productive, either through human interaction or pollination, it made its way down the coast to the southern areas of California where it is considered invasive.

Lupinus texensis or Texas Bluebonnet is the most popular lupine in the southern United States. Its distribution extends as far west as Texas and extends across Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Florida. It is considered to be one of the most important plants that support native bee species. Bluebonnets are so named because they are deep blue with white spots. If you get the chance to visit a bluebonnet field in the spring, you might even find an albino white bluebonnet among others. These are about two meters high.

A really cool variety of this pea-like plant is the Russell Hybrid Mixed Colors. It blooms in all of the colors we mentioned here, in a seed pack!


Lupinus polyphyllus var.Burkei leafLarge-leaved lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus var. Burkei, lives up to its name. Source: Thayne Tuason

Lupins will and will thrive in the right conditions. Let's cover the tools you need to grow beautiful large hybrids in yellow, pink, purple, or blue.

Light & temperature

Lupins prefer full sun. They grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8. Some botanical strains can tolerate cold temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit and all thrive in temperatures below 86 degrees. Outside these areas, leaf and flower damage can occur.

If you want to enjoy flowers a little longer, bring your lupins. Since they are perennial, you can let nature take its course. Flowers and leaves naturally die in summer. As long as the roots are healthy, the lupins will bloom again in spring.

Water & moisture

Lupins need about an inch of water per week. However, many are drought tolerant and once established do not require water. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. Depending on the variety, you might not even need to water unless there's a drought. Water lupins in the morning using watering tubes or drip irrigation. Do not wet the foliage as this will cause mold.


Lupins love acidic, sandy, well-drained soils. Endemic or native species do not need additional fertilizer. They are already suitable for their region. Those in pots or grow bags can live in potting soil enriched with peat moss, which lowers the pH. The typical pH range is between 6.5 and 7.5. For some of the lupine genus, add coarse sand to the soil for additional drainage. For more information on growing native lupins, please visit your local agricultural advisory office.


Most lupins don't need heavily fertilized soil. Provided you've found sources for native plants in your area, there isn't much you need to do. If your soil is too alkaline to start with, change it to acidify it slightly.


All the tools you need for propagation are in Lupine. Use either seeds or cuttings to have annual flowers all over your garden. You can also spread lupins through seeds.

To propagate plants by pruning, use a sharp knife to cut off a section of your lupine right at the base (or at the top of the crown) in early summer or late spring. Cut off all parts of the basal cutting and dip them in root hormone. Put them right in the soil they will be housed in and keep them moist. In about a week, your plant cuttings will take root.

To propagate by seed, collect seed pods from mature plants. Put them in a paper bag in a warm, dry place and wait for them to open. Then take the seeds and scarify them with sandpaper or a small knife. Soak the seeds overnight to break the seed coat and put them in the refrigerator for at least a week. Then plant them in a suitable growing medium. You can let Mother Nature do her thing by prepping the seeds and planting them outdoors in the fall for cold stratification. When propagated indoors, the lupine germinates in about three weeks.


Cut off dead blooms to encourage more blooms. Cut them back to the surface in late summer when they die, but be sure to leave a flower stalk with a seed pod so the plant can spread itself out when it's time to renew. Also take stem cuttings for propagation at this point.

Some gardens benefit from lupine control to prevent excessive annual spread. Wait for them to bloom and prune to the ground before the seed pod forms. Use flower tips in flower arrangements. To prepare lupins for winter, cut them off in the fall and cover them with a loose, light mulch like pine needles or hay.


Lupinus perennisLupinus perennis is a lupine with beautiful blue flower clusters. Source: Adam Balzer

Plants native to regions of North America will not have many problems in their habitat. However, keep this in mind when working with these pea family members.

Growing problems

Too much spread can occur. Lupins will conquer gardens in two years. To prevent gardens from overflowing, harvest spikes of flowers while they are in bloom. To control the spread, collect seeds in their pods after the flowers die. Gift them to friends who also want to grow lupins, or propagate them yourself. Avoid growing the yellow lupine variety in Southern California as it is considered invasive.


Lupine weevil feeds on the roots of the lupins. They are numerous in areas of Europe and Washington. Adult beetles lay eggs on the ground. Eggs hatch and maggots burrow underneath to feed on lupine root material. Damaged lupine taproots destroy a plant. Most gardeners use pyrethrins to control this pest before they are fully grown and become more numerous.

Aphids are common pests that feed on all types of lupins. Use whatever resources you previously used to remove them. You can find them around the base of your lupins or on the underside of the leaves. A jet of water from a hose prevents them from feeding longer. If an infestation gets out of hand, try neem oil or insecticidal soap.


Anthracnose is a disease caused by the fungus Colletotrichum gloeosporioides. Infected leaves darken around the edges and begin to necrote. The fungus continues to grow when left alone and overwinters in soil. To prevent further leaf rot, use a copper fungicide spray. If that doesn't work, remove and dispose of affected plants.

Powdery mildew occurs in an excessively wet spring or fall. If you catch it early, just remove the damaged leaves and keep an eye on the plant for the future. Neem oil or copper fungicide are also effective.

Too wet soil causes Root rot with lupins. Keep watering at 1 inch a week. If your garden has taken in a lot of rainfall, reduce watering. When using pots, be sure to work coarse sand into your planting medium.

frequently asked Questions

Lupinus arboreusLupinus arboreus is sometimes referred to as the yellow bush lupins. Source: Linda

Q: Do lupins like sun or shade?

A: Sun, sun and even more sun is what these popular plants need to grow.

Q: Do lupine plants spread?

Answer: yes. Some that have found their way outside their region are considered invasive in parts of North America, Europe, and the Pacific Islands.

Q: Do lupins come back every year?

A: They come back annually in the spring for several years in a row.

Q: is lupine poisonous to dogs?

Answer: yes. Although lupine is related to the botanical pea, it is poisonous to dogs and humans alike. If you're worried about exposing pets to lupine flowers, keep this plant out of the way.

The green fingers behind this article:

Leave a comment