at 11:43 PM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

One of the showiest spring wildflowers in the San Francisco Bay area are the lupines. There are well over 25 species here and more 60 throughout California. Nearly every habitat in our Golden State has its characteristic lupine. They are found in Central and South America as well as Europe and the Mediterranean and have been cultivated throughout the world. Even becoming weedy species in some countries like New Zealand.

Lupines come in many different forms from tiny annuals to large, rangy perennial shrubs. They are easily recognized by their palmate leaf pattern and characteristic pea flowers. The colors vary quite a bit however, from various shades of blue to white to yellow.

Their common name, and scientific name -- Lupine -- means of, or pertaining to, wolves. This plant was named by the Europeans for two mistaken beliefs. They noticed that the plant grew on very poor soils and therefore they believed that the lupines robbed the soil of nutrients (first mistaken belief) like wolves rob people (second mistaken belief).

Lupines are members of the legume family, and one of the major characteristics of this family is the presence of root nodules. These specialized plant adaptations offer an ideal home for resident blue-green algae, a.k.a cyanobacteria. These primitive plants are able to take atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into a form that the host plant can then utilize. What this means is that legumous plants not only can tolerate poor soils but they actually improve the nutrient quality of the earth. Leguminous plants therefore can grow in desert soils, which are low in nutrients, or rain forest soils, which are constantly being leached of nutrients. Hardly robbing.

And honestly, wolves don't rob people, wolves are just being wolves. It's not always about us humans.


This is Michael Ellis, with a Perspective

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.