Pine lupine (Lupinus albicaulis) can be found on dry, open slopes in the foothills and mountains west of the Cascades and Sierras in California, Oregon and Washington. According to folklore, lupines, which grow on barren areas, were thought to rob the soil of all their nutrients, thus preventing other plants from competing. Wolves, Latin “lupus”, were believed to rob chicken yards of their poultry in the same manner lupines robbed the soil. This may be how the genus name, Lupinus, originated. Then again, maybe not. . .
In actuality, lupines are legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil. In conjunction with bacteria living in nodes on their roots, legumes take free nitrogen from the air and convert it into soil nitrogen, i.e. they actually “fertilize” the soil. Therefore, lupines can grow in nutrient deprived areas where other plants cannot. Rather than robbing the soil, lupines enrich the soil.
Pine lupine grows from a strong tap root and is multi-stemmed. The alternate, petioled (stalked) leaves are palmate with five to nine leaflets. The stem and leaves are sparsely to densely hairy. There is no definite arrangement of the pea-like flowers in the spike inflorescence at the end of the stem. Pine lupine flowers range from purplish to white or cream in color and consist of five petals arranged in two lips. The banner (upper enlarged petal of pea family) has a yellow center. The keel (two partially united lower petals) is strongly upcurved. The fruit is a hairy pod containing three to ten seeds.
Pine lupines are native and may be annuals, biennials or short-lived perennials, depending upon where in their range they grow.
Although, like many Lupinus species, pine lupine is considered toxic, birds do eat the seeds while rabbits and small mammals find cover amid the plants.
Other common names for L. albicaulis are sickle-keel lupine and Anderson’s lupine. L. andersonii is another synonym for the scientific name.
These pine lupines were photographed at Medicine Lake (Siskiyou County CA).