The lupin, also known as the lupin, is a tall perennial with spiky flowers that lend grace to any garden. It grows wild in many parts of the world, and its uses range from ornamental gardens to livestock feed. It is well worth investigating when planning a garden for varied heights and colours of flowers.
Wild lupins are generally a rich blue or purple, but some species produce pink, red, violet, white or yellow blooms.
The genus lupinus is a member of the legume family. Most varieties are perennials ranging from 1 to 5 feet tall, but there are also bush lupins that grow to about 10 feet, and a tree variety in Mexico that can grow to over 20 feet. Both "bitter" (Mediterranean) and "sweet" (North American) varieties are found, classified by alkaloids in the plant that affect the taste.
Lupins as Food
From Rome to the Andes, lupin bean pods have long been cultivated for food. The plant was spread through the Mediterranean by the Romans, where even today lupini dishes are common. In North and South America, native tribes ate lupin beans, often after soaking them in salt water to make them edible.
Several species of lupin are cultivated for poultry and livestock feed. However, lupin poisoning is a common cause of cattle and sheep deaths, especially in the American West, caused by toxic alkaloids in bitter lupins.
Lupins are popular ornamental plants, hardy and easy to grow in a wide variety of climates. Lupin seeds are increasingly being cultivated as a substitute for soy, and can be found as ingredients in such foods as vegan sausage, lupin-tofu, and lupin flour.
Lupins are easily recognised, with a distinctive leaf consisting of many narrow, pointed leaflets, and a tall spike with many individual flowers around the central stem. They are often called bluebonnets or Quaker bonnets because of their distinctive shape.
People who own livestock should check their pastures for the presence of wild lupins, as the bean pods can be fatal to animals if ingested. Pods infected by the fungus Diaporthe toxica can cause liver damage in animals or humans.