In years with wetter winters, entire fields of colorful lupine can be seen in deserts and meadows, on mountain slopes and next to streams.
But this year is an exception because of the drier winter in Southern California; lupines are relatively scarce in the area. They still can be found, however, usually growing alongside California’s state flower, the golden poppy. More than 82 varieties of lupine grow in California, many of them native. Most are hybrids.
Lupines have dense clusters of flowers about half an inch long and, typically, shaped like sweet peas. Their colors vary; they can be yellow, white, blue, lilac or purple. Most are in bloom through late spring and midsummer.
The flowers grow atop slender, unbranched stems from two to five feet tall. Leaves are smooth on their upper surfaces and measure about 1 1/2 to 4 inches long. They usually are less than an inch wide. From nine to 13 leaves are arranged on the plant like spokes.
Lupines were once believed to be “wolf-like,” devouring soil nutrients. Thus, they were given the Latin name Lupinus , meaning wolf. They later were found to thrive in poor soil, which they do not necessarily deplete.
The most common lupines in California are the blue-pod (Lupinus polyphyllus) , one of the tallest and most lush; Coulter’s lupine (Lupinus sparsiflous) , common in open fields, slopes and deserts, and Russell lupine, a hybrid.
Pictured is a hillside meadow on Gorman Post Road near Gorman.