Lupinus is Latin for wolf (the plant was once thought to deplete or “wolf” the mineral content of the soil); perennis is Latin, meaning perennial, continual, everlasting or perpetual.
Dry sandy soil in fields, meadows and edges of woods.
This is a great native for hot, dry sites and poor soils. Plant near the front or edge of your landscape so you can observe and enjoy all the different types of pollinators that visit the flowers.
Sundial lupine is native to eastern North America, but increasingly rare in New England. It has not been seen in Maine for several years due to limited habitat and human land disturbances. It is a perennial plant that blooms profusely in part shade or sun and thrives in dry sandy soil in fields, meadows and edges of woods. Like all members of the Pea family, it enhances soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen into a form useful to plants.
Leaves and Stems
The palmately compound leaves are alternately arranged and divided into 7-11 leaflets. Leaflets are hairy, up to 2 inches long and ½ inch wide; have rounded tips, often with a small sharp point at the apex; and taper at the base. The 1 - 2 ft. stems are hairy to varying degrees and may become smooth with age. The abruptly tapering leaf tips, overall shorter leaf length and shorter plant stature may set it apart from the non-native Bigleaf lupine that is so common in our area.
The flowers form upright, elongated, 8” terminal clusters of purple, pea-like flowers. Individual flowers are ¾- to 1-inch long and a typical pea-shape. The upper parts may be blue, or two-tone blue and purple, or blue and white. Occasionally the flowers range from pink to white.
The seed pod is up to 2 inches long, hairy, shaped like a typical pea pod, and turns black when mature. Each pod contains 2 to several seeds. When ripe, the seedpod explodes, aiding in distribution and making the timing of seed collection difficult. This plant self-seeds in gravelly soil at the Native Garden.
Deer may browse the foliage and birds and small mammals eat the seeds. Sundial lupine is the host plant and sole food source for the Karner Blue butterfly and Persius Duskywing and just one of two leguminous host plants of the Frosted Elfin. Many species of bee force themselves through the clamshell-like flowers to reach the reward. In places like Maine where Bigleaf lupine is invasive, this ecological incompatibility has been found to reduce the local abundance and diversity of lepidopteran pollinators.
Freshly sown seed will germinate the first summer.
Some Native Americans fed this plant to horses to make them spirited and full of fire, and they rubbed the plant on their hands in order to control horses. Others made a cold infusion from the plant and used it as a wash to relieve hemorrhaging and vomiting.
Library Garden, Teaching Garden (see garden map)
Plant Profile by Kathy Kling