Tom's Blog

Monday, June 2, 2008

Lupine in bloom

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) is a delightful early prairie plant. It grows best on drier, sandier sites. About eight years we were given five bags of lupine chaff remaining from a major seed cleaning operation. Four or five volunteers were given parts of this chaff and told to throw out the seed wherever they wanted to. In addition, Kathie threw some seed in two small areas of the Pocket Prairie that are unusually sandy. It was these latter two places that we first saw lupine flowers.

In the subsequent years lupine has been seen in several other areas, including Toby's Prairie and several more open savannas. Also, the original patches in the Pocket Prairie have continued to spread.

Lupine sets seed around the middle of June but they are hard to collect because as soon as the seeds are ripe, the pods burst and the seeds are shot away. Because of this process, lupine spreads readily, colonizing new areas that have the right growing conditions.

I have seen a private roadside of a half mile in length which is almost solid lupine. This roadside had been planted about 15 years ago with seeds from a single packet purchased from a prairie nursery. The conditions were obviously favorable for growth and spread!

Seed collecting lore says that you have to collect your lupine seed before the 4th of July. Our seed collecting chart says mid to late June. In the field, lupine plants start growing soon after the seeds are released. In line with this behavior, lupine is often seen in flower in first-year planted prairies.

Lupine is the only known host for the endangered Karner blue butterfly and conservation efforts on lupine and Karner blues go hand in hand. We don't have enough sandy areas to support Karner blues, but we are still happy to have some areas where lupine thrives.


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