Photo by Melody

Focus on the Florida Native Lupine

By Jacqueline Cross (libelluleSeptember 27, 2008

I have always been a proponent of using native and heirloom plants in the garden. The Florida Lupine is one such plant. Here we will take a closer look at it.

Gardening picture

The Florida Native Lupine (Lupinus diffusus), also known as Sky-blue Lupine, is a short-lived perennial. A member of the pea family (Fabaceae), this native to the United States can be seen growing in the southeastern part of the country, specifically in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georigia, North Carolina and South Carolina.[1] In Florida, it can be found in the dry, nutrient-deficient soil of the sandhills, pinewoods, along roadsides and in open pastures.

Lupinus diffusus is classified as a sub-shrub, a low-growing shrub which never reaches more than three feet tall, more typically, less than one and one half feet.[1] The plant will fall over and sprawl across the ground making the growth habit spreading. Leaves are much like that of Lambs' Ear (Stachys citrina). They are both fuzzy and gray-green. Blue and pea-like blooms are born on spikes rising from the center of the thick foliage from early spring through early summer. In Florida, blooms can appear from midwinter to late spring. Native Lupines have been known to dry up and die in Florida immediately after flowering.

Lupinus diffusus
Florida Native Lupine
Photo courtesy of
Dave's Garden
member, Floridian

Like any other Lupine, the Florida Native Lupine does not like root disturbance. It is quite likely the plant will die if one digs and transplants it. It spreads by seed carried on the breeze or by creatures in the wild. Seeds will only germinate if the soil they land on or are planted in, is like that from which they came. This is to say that conditions should be the same for the new seedlings as they are for the mother plant.

The name Lupine comes from the Latin, lupus, meaning "wolf." Lupinus is also Latin and translates to "of wolves." Early Romans thought Lupines actually stole the nutrients from the soil causing it to be barren of other plant life thereby, creating a place suited only to wolves. It was thought that the plants ravaged the earth like wolves do their prey. The opposite is true. Lupinus actually add nutrients to the soil and for this reason, make a good cover crop. The term diffusus means loosely spreading and refers to the spreading habit of the plant.[2]


Lupinus diffusus
Florida Native Lupine


Photo courtesy of
Dave's Garden member,

Lupine seed pods hang like pea pods on the plant after flowers have faded. When dry, the pods explode and send seeds flying into the dirt around the plant.

Seeds should be planted in late fall in Florida, allowing them to chill through the winter. The plant will bloom the first season if seeds are planted in the fall. If planting in the spring, soak seeds in water overnight, then plant no deeper than one quarter inch.

Although Lupines grow in poor soil, they are a bit persnickety about their home. They prefer full sun and well drained sandy soil. It may take a few tries before you find the perfect spot for them. The wonderful blue color of the blooms and the gray-green of the leaves, make it worth the effort. Once these plants ‘take hold' in your garden, they reseed every year thereafter. If you find that they are taking over, deadhead plants as blooms begin to fade to prevent seed pods from forming.

Lupinus diffusus
Florida Native Lupine
Photo courtesy
of Dave's Garden

Give plants plenty of room to spread out. Water regularly but do not allow plants to stay wet. It is preferable for the plants to be a little dry.

Aphids are attracted to Lupines but in a healthy garden, parasitic wasps will find the aphids and remove them from your plant.

Plant the low-growing (less than six inches) Silver Lace Tansy (Tanacetum haradjanii) in front of Lupinus diffusus. Then, add the taller (18-20 inches) Lambs' Ear (Stachys citrina) at the back; this will make an attractive grouping that will highlight the foliage. The leaves of these plants will glow under the light of the moon. These would be a lovely addition to any moon garden.

There are many beautiful hybrid Lupines on the market today but nothing beats a plant that is native to your area. It is perfectly suited to grow right where mother nature has dropped it.

That being said, it certainly would not hurt to mix a few of the newer Lupines with the natives.


Happy Gardening

[1] USDA Plants Database
[2] Dave's Garden Botanary

Lupinus diffusus photograph at top right courtesy of Dave's Garden member, farmstead.

*Seeds are poisonous.

  About Jacqueline Cross  
Jacqueline CrossI'm a native Floridian...feet planted in the shifting sands of northwest FL. but my heart strings are tightly knotted to the hills of Tennessee. I live with my poodle, Minnie Pearl, Zsa Zsa the cat who runs the whole show and a new addition, Kitty Belle. I'm a writer, gardener, quilter, cross stitcher, soapmaker and nature lover. Mother to 3 wonderful daughters & Nana to 6 perfect grandchildren. I also write for and was promoted to Feature Writer in the vegetable gardens section in 2008.

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