Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Lupine

The beauty of Lupines are not just in their flowers.

Common Name: Lupine
Scientific Name: Lupinus species
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume or Pea family)

Edible Lupine seeds being developed in South America.

Lupines are beautiful wildflowers found almost around the globe. Known primarily for their showy spikes of flowers in blues, purples, reds, yellows, and white, these legumes put nitrogen back into the soil (natural fertilizer), host a number of beneficial insects, can act as a groundcover to protect top soil, and some species even produce edible seeds. A brilliant addition to the home and Forest Garden.
Found almost all over the world, there are likely native or at least naturalized Lupines close to where you live. They have been used as food plants likely for thousands of years. The Romans were fond of the seeds, but have been used by most Mediterranean cultures. The South and North American species were also used by natives there as well. More recently, there has been a growing trend to use Lupines as a cash crop alternative to soy, livestock forage and feed crop, as well as developing a wide variety of ornamental flowering varieties.


  • Edible species include Wild or Sundial Lupine (Lupinus perrenis), Seashore Lupine (Lupinus littoralis),  Blue Lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis), another Blue Lupine (Lupinus augustifolius), and White Lupine (Lupinus albus), but the best is likely the Pearl Lupine (Lupinus mutabilis).
  • There are larger species in the Lupine genus... the most common large species being the Tree Lupine or Yellow Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus) that grows to over 6 feet (2 meters) tall.
  • Lupines are an important larval food for many butterflies and moths.

Lupines come in a wide variety of colors.

Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental flowering plant (wildflower)
  • Edible seeds in some species - used as cooked bean substitute, can be roasted then ground into a powder (NOTE: seeds contain a bitter toxin that can easily be leached out by soaking the seeds in water overnight, and up to 3 days) and discarding the soaking water. 
  • Some species produce an edible oil from the pressed seeds

Secondary Uses:

  • Nitrogen fixing plant (puts nitrogen back into the soil) - inoculated with leguminous bacteria.
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Provides shelter for parasatoid wasps (beneficial wasps that prey on plant pests)
  • Lacewings (beneficial insects) prefer to lay eggs on this plant
  • Dynamic Accumulator (Phosphorus, Nitrogen)
  • Groundcover - space plants about 1 foot (30 centimeters) apart

Yield: Not applicable
Harvesting: Not applicable
Storage: Not applicable

Many beneficial insects are attracted to Lupines.

AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information available
Chill Requirement: No reliable information available

Plant Type: Small to Medium-sized, Clumping Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer or Groundcover Layer (depending on the species) 
Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available.

Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile - pollinated by bees
Flowering: May-July depending on the variety and USDA Zone where it is planted

Life Span: No reliable information available, but if conditions are fair to good, Lupines will self-reseed.

Harvesting Lupine flowers in Detroit - 1938

Size: 1-4 feet (30-120 centimeters) tall and 1-3 feet (30-90 centimeters) wide
Roots: Fibrous network of roots
Growth Rate: Medium - Fast

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to Medium soils
pH: most species prefer acidic to near neutral soil (3.5 - 6.5)

Propagation: By seed (needs scarification) or by Spring cuttings of soft, basal growth. Division is reported to be difficult.

Maintenance: None

Concerns: Poisonous – There are many varieties of lupines that have toxic seeds, and the seeds can become contaminated with a fungus that produces toxins as well. If you are going to eat the seeds, really know what you are doing.


  1. You can find it (L. albus)all around Portugal, in a bar or café. Ask for "tremoço" (tremosso).

  2. Yes! I have seen it all over here on the island. I didn't know what it was. I can't wait to give it a try now. Thanks so much, Jorge!

  3. I've added edible lupine to the forest for the first time this year. I'm curious if cross pollination with non-edible wild species will produce a toxic seed?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. You wrote "the seeds can become contaminated with a fungus that produces toxins as well"
    Which fungus are you talking about ?
    In which conditions those it appears ?

  5. Life span : will self reseed and stay in the same place for about 4 years


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  7. We have them here in southern Finland, probably rest of it as well. Especially along roadsides.

    One concern to note is that they are quite invasive and spread aggressively. You may need to keep them in check.


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