Plant of the Week
Sundial or Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis L.)
By Patricia J. Ruta McGhan
Found in sunny areas of bare sand, lupines thrive in black oak sand savannas and were very common prior to fire control. Today, homes, livestock pens, and brush are invading their last strongholds. Garden hybrids have escaped to the wild and can be seen along the roadsides in much of the northeast.
The federally endangered Karner blue butterfly relies on Lupinus perennis as a larval host plant. For that reason there is considerable interest in reestablishing colonies of lupine. Trying to transplant an adult plant is a waste of time, but colonies are easy to start from seed, assuming the location is sandy and sunny, with little competition from weeds. The seedlings develop a tap root quickly and benefit from watering while they are getting established. Seeds should be scarified to enable water to be more easily absorbed through the very hard seed coat.
The use of this plant for medicinal purposes is not recommended as it is quite toxic and potentially fatal. Toxicity in lupine is believed to result primarily from the alkaloid D-lupaine. The signs of lupine poisoning can develop within an hour or may take as long as a day. They include twitching, nervousness, and depression, difficulty in moving and breathing, and loss of muscular control. If large quantities were consumed, convulsions, coma, and death by respiratory paralysis may occur. Native Americans brewed a leaf tea and drank it cold to treat nausea and internal hemorrhaging. They also used it as a fodder for horses to fatten them and make them "spirited and full of fire".
Lupinus is from the Latin word lupus meaning "wolf," alluding to the belief that these plants robbed the soil, which is the opposite of the truth. Lupine actually helps to increase soil nitrogen.