West Coast Beauty

While snakes and carnivorous plants are the primary focus of this site, an interest in biodiversity and conservation means that naturally I dabble in trying to grow/raise a suite of other things as well. Other strange plants are a shoe-in of course (no carnivore enthusiast is likely to escape growing at least one aroid eventually), but I also have a soft spot for wildflowers of many kinds. A lot of them seem to want to give me headaches when trying to grow them (several dozen seeds sown this year, a mere handful successfully growing -which means of course only that new attempts will follow soon enough), but at least one in particular has truly taken off in a phenomenal way:

Small, but upon close inspection they have all the same beauty as their more familiar larger cousins.

Lupinus bicolor is known by many common names (all the more reason to just use the one scientific title): miniature lupine, bicolor annual lupine, Lindley's lupine or pygmy-leaved lupine among others. It has quite a range, stretching from Baja California all the way along the western coast of North America to British Columbia, and isn't particularly picky about its habitat either. While it has a penchant for places a little on the drier side (as many lupines do) such as grasslands and oak-chaparral or sage scrublands, it can also be found in more moist environs so long as the soil drains well. Being so widespread and adaptable, this is luckily one wildflower that is not under any particular threat in its native habitat, though one should never take large numbers and a widespread foothold for granted; after all, the passenger pigeon once numbered billions and lived across all of eastern North America, and now numbers zero, so taking care to preserve even the weeds is wise. As some of the common names suggest, this is an annual species (rarely biennial), not persisting year after year like the garden variety does but instead setting numerous seeds to maintain its population.

The common habit of this species also lends toward it being fairly small typically, though with how it's behaving in the trays here "small" may really be a relative term:

"Small." Right. These stems are nearing 2 feet tall in some cases.

Perhaps it's because the whole plant doesn't get full sun all day long, but still, one would think it might stay a little more squat like most of the descriptions say (though the descriptions I can find say it is a fairly variable little plant). We'll find out next year after I sow the newly collected seeds about in the yard.

L. bicolor does have a rather interesting growth pattern compared to other lupines though, typically maxing out at just under a foot tall in the leaf-bearing stems themselves (and perhaps another 4-8 inches with the inflorescence), and from the central rosette develops one to several separate scrambling stems with more or less alternating leaves. Each leaf sits on a narrow petiole and fans out into several oblong leaflets; together across the whole plant they make for a fairly bushy appearance. The entire plant, too, is covered in long, silvery hairs, so it also looks somewhere between spiky and fuzzy and is quite soft to the touch.

Seen from above.

The flowers, of course, are one of the main attractors in this species. As a member of the Fabaceae family (the same group that gives us peas and beans), each bloom has a rather odd structure, with two major lobes forming the upper and lower halves of the flower and a pointed "keel" hidden within the separate halves of the lower lobe that contains both the stigma and anthers. The upper lobe has two halves that both flare backward and frame the lower parts, and in this species the outer edges match the lower lobe in being a beautiful indigo blue-purple coloration typically, while the inner half ranges from stark white to (especially when aged a bit) light or deep pink. One stalk will typically develop several whorls of 2-6 flowers each, each whorl opening together and then fading out shortly after the next opens.

Barely a centimeter long, but full of beauty.

As the male and female reproductive parts are both house together within the hidden keel, while there are pollinators for this and the many other similarly structured pea flowers, it also nearly ensures that there will be at least a self-pollination event with each bloom. After the flower is spent, pods looking very much like (as might be expected in this family) hairy pea pods, each containing a small number of small, grayish brown semi-flattened "beans," which then winter over to sprout the next spring.

Seedpods at night; realizing I hadn't a photo of these, I had to rush out and take one for this article, hence the odd lighting.

While this may not be the species one would look for to plant as the centerpiece of the front yard, it is certainly a variety that should be appreciated by any wildflower connoisseur, and should you live on the west coast of the US definitely a species that should be considered for planting in a native wildflower garden. They're not particularly picky on soil, though locations a bit on the drier and more well-drained side are appreciated (just make sure they get good watering early in the year to develop the necessary taproots) which means fairly xeric locations or even modified clay soils suit them just fine. They are a great species to plant alongside other flowers too as, just like many of the other legumes, they host nitrogen-fixing bacteria in structures within their roots and so can help enrich the soil. Make sure to collect or at least sow out seeds each year in order to bring them back, and then sit back and enjoy the delicate flowers and fuzzy leaves.

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