My New Obsession: Alaskan Lupines
"Long after we are gone, summer will stroke this ridge in blue; The hawk still flies above the flowers, thinking perhaps the sky has fallen." ....from Lupine Ridge by Peggy Simpson Curry.
I simply have fallen in love with lupines.
Aunt Bett would know immediately if a plant were edible, medicinal, or simply a plant. I think her knowledge was limited to the plants of the mountains of southeast Kentucky however, so she would have been no help to me in Alaska. I really wished she had been beside me because every wildflower I saw was new to me. I needed her asphidity bag, too, since most of the animals I saw seemed to be as big as Alaska itself. I do know that Aunt Bett would have loved it, just as I did.
I remember an article on Lupines that was published on Dave's Garden back in March, 2008. When I read it and saw Lee Anne Stark's photos of lupines I thought they were most beautiful, but after reading it I realized they would never grow for me. Kentucky summers are simply too hot and too dry. I also thought that I would never see a lupine in real life unless I made a trip north. I never gave them another thought until I found myself in Alaska and there they were in great abundance.
Aunt Bett's knowledge was inherent and genetic, I believe. Mine isn't. As soon as I got home from my Alaskan adventure, well, after overcoming a bit of jet lag, I hit the computer to take a look at Alaskan wildflowers. It was difficult to narrow down my favorites, but strangely enough, the lupines appeared in most of my own photographs. They were mixed in with Eskimo potato, wild red/orange columbine, tiny white saxafrages, salmon berry; they were along the roadsides, on the hillsides, and down in the canyons. Seas and seas of blue! It was like they mirrored the deep blue of the evening skies. Suddenly I remembered Lee Anne's article, I read it again, and I am definitely hooked. It doesn't matter that they won't grow in KY. I still love them.
I was visiting a Dave's Garden friend in Seward, Alaska and she met me at the airport in Anchorage. It is a two hour drive from Anchorage back to Seward, but it became a six hour trip because I kept yelling, "Stop the car, Ava, I gotta get a picture of those flowers!" Being the patient soul that she is, Ava indulged my obsession, and I ended up with more than 500 photos of Alaskan wildflowers. Now don't panic, I promise I won't put them all in this article, but here is what I learned about lupines.
Lupines (Lupinus) are very old plants and come in quite a variety of species. The different species do have a commonality, though, they all grow in tall spikes of varying heights, and they all produce flowers on dense or open whorls on those erect spikes. Most have grayish to green leaves bearing silvery hairs, and some of the varieties are toxic, while others are edible and medicinal. In Alaska the blooming spikes were about a foot tall in June when I was there. Some species are known as bluebonnets, and grow throughout the state of Texas and other areas in the lower 48. There is a difference in color and in shape within the varying species, and though I love all of them, my addiction lies in the lupines of Alaska.
In some countries they are called lupins, and the yellow variety produces legume seeds called lupin beans. They were common with the Romans and their culture spread the cultivation of them throughout the Roman empire. Today those same yellow lupin beans are commonly sold in a salty solution much like olives, and can be eaten with or without the skins.
Other species are cultivated as forage and grain legumes. There is a white lupin as well, and it is edible after soaking the seeds for some days in salted water. There is another variety called sweet lupins; newly bred varients of sweet lupins are grown in Germany. They lack the bitter taste of other varieties and require no soaking in a salt solution. The seeds of the sweet lupins are used for different foods including vegan sausages and lupin tofu, and on to lupin flour. Given that lupin seeds have the full range of essential amino acids and that they can be grown in cooler climates than soy, they are becoming more recognized as a cash crop. Lupin milk is a milk substiture made from lupin protein, similar to soy milk.
Several species are grown for livestock and poultry food, but much care must be taken because some of the species can be toxic affecting the nervous system. We really don't want to do that to our livestock. At any rate, a steady diet of lupin is not recommended for any animal.
I found it is considered an invasive weed in New Zealand(1). There the lupins have escaped into the wild and grow in large numbers along main roads and streams. They smother original vegetation with their long taproot, and the authorities there are on a campaign to reduce their numbers. I sure am glad those numbers were not reduced between Anchorage and Seward, because they were breathtaking.
Another interesting fact that I gleaned from many sources is that for several butterflies, lupines are important larvae food. And surprisingly enough, some lupine seeds are used as external applications for ulcers and similar skin eruptions, and some that can be used internally are said to be diuretic. I strongly recommend that you do not use lupines as a food or medicinal source, because the wrong species could certainly be toxic.
The Alaskan lupines that I saw, were of three varieties: Lupinus polyphyllus, Lupine articus and Lupinus nootkatensis. There was little difference to me, but to those who live there, I am sure it is significant. Some of the blooms were not tightly whorled together, and there were some variations in shades of color that I noticed. Spectacular, still. They grew abundantly in dry areas along roadsides, they are in bloom from late June through July, and they are pollinated by bees. They also can be found on high elevations, dry slopes and even in gravelly areas. It is a perrenial plant in that area of the Kenai peninsula, and elsewhere as well.
If you notice, I have spelled the word lupine in two ways. It seems that in other areas they are called lupins, but in North America they are known as lupines. Same plant, just different varieties, I think.
I would love to be able to grow them, but I can hear Aunt Bett now: "Don't you be wishin' for them blooms, little girl, anything that purty's bound to be pizonous." And so it goes with Aunt Bett who lives in a prominent place in my heart.
This article is dedicated to my very special Alaska friends: Rosie, Jens, Lynn, Rita, Sammy, Dennis, Weezi, and especially to Mac and my sweet friend Ava. Thank you for an unforgettable week.
Photos are from my own collection and also from this website: http://www.alaskastock.com//resultsframe.asp?akfacts=18xtextkeys1=lupine .
Lee Anne Stark's article can be found here: http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/700/ . Thank you, Lee Anne!
There is a wonderful book called "Alaskan Wildflowers" by Verna E. Pratt that is in its seventeenth printing. It is published by Alaskakrafts, Inc., P.O. Box 210087, Anchorage, AK 99504. It was a very nice gift to me, thank you, Rosie!