Lupines (Lupinus) are popular plants in the US with one species being the famous Blue Bonnets, state flower of Texas. While Blue Bonnets are not hardy here, there are a number of cultivars that will survive in the Northern Great Plains.
Varieties & Characteristics
The most popular group of Lupines are the Russell Hybrids, developed by a home gardener in England. The Russell hybrids are available in wide variety of colors. Another excellent series is ‘Tutti Frutti’ with a great selection of colors including white, pink, red, burgundy, lavender, blue, purple and yellow. The flowers are borne in terminal spikes (racemes), 1 1/2 to 3’ tall, held nicely above the foliage. Individual flowers are pea-like and about ½” long. They make good cut flowers.
The foliage is palmately compound with 9-16 lanceolate to oblanceolate leaflets per leaf. The leaves are attached to the base of the stems by 6-12” long petioles. One interesting aspect of these plants is that a large droplet of water will often be caught in the center of the leaf. Besides the Russell Hybrids which will generally grow to about 30” in height, the ‘Minarette’ series offers some nice dwarf size plants in a variety of color growing to 20” in height. ‘Red Flame’ has carmine red flowers and grows 40” tall; ‘The Governor’ has marine blue flowers with white flags and grows 30” tall; and ‘Blushing Bride’ has pure white flowers.
Care & Management
We have had great success with lupines at McCrory Gardens in Brookings with them usually coming into bloom in June. The floral display last year was one of the best I have seen in any garden! Ours are planted in a moist site that is drip irrigated and gets good snow cover during the winter.
Lupines like a neutral to slightly alkaline soil, cool temperatures and moist soil. They can easily be propagated by seed but will not bloom until the second season. Unfortunately, Lupines are often not very long lived in the Upper Great Plains, but they can still put on quite a show for a few years. Give the plants a good winter mulch to help them survive our cold winters. Powdery mildew is probably the most common disease problem with lupines and aphids may also be a problem but neither is very serious. The name Lupine is derived from the word lupus, a wolf.