Lupine (or lupin) flowers are some of the showiest spring and summer wildflowers on Mount Laguna. A member of the pea family (Fabaceae), there are over 200 species of lupine around the world. Mount Laguna has a number of different species, some annual and some perennial. Species may have more than one variety which makes identification a challenge.**
Flower spikes have multiple pea-like flowers that can be blue, blue and white, white or pink. Leaves are green or gray-green and palmate, often with bristly hairs on the leaves. Seed pods form after the plant flowers. These look very much like pea pods you would find on any other pea plant. Plants vary in size depending on species.
The lupines flowering in mid May on Mount Laguna are probably miniature lupine or bajada lupine. They are 1’ to 2’ high, with light blue to dark blue flower spikes.
Foliage is gray-green. Look for them tucked along Sunrise Highway, Los Huecos Road, and in meadow areas.
There is a wonderful example of perennial bush or grape soda lupine on Los Huecos Road, on the right side of the road about half a mile down from the Visitor Center. These bush lupines become huge. They aren’t flowering yet, so come back in mid June or even later to see how they look. It should be quite a display. You might even smell the trademark “grape soda” scent.
Lupine seeds have been used around the world as a food source. They are a pea plant, after all. They were cultivated in such diverse places as Rome, Egypt and the Andes. Lupine seeds would be washed repeatedly to remove bitter alkaloids, then cooked and eaten, toasted and ground into flour, or brined and preserved. According to Celia Garcia, Chumash Indian, lupines were used as a food source in Southern California but the seeds had to be washed repeatedly to make them edible. The alkaloids they contain can interfere with cardiac rhythm in high doses. Some lupines are more toxic than others, so using our local lupines for food is NOT recommended. You would need to know exactly which ones might be edible.
In other parts of the world, however, lupine is making a comeback as a food source. Lupine seeds can be used as an alternative to soybeans. They are high in protein, fiber and antioxidants. Western Australia produces most of the world’s edible lupine crop. The lupine grown there has been hybridized to produce fewer toxic alkaloids. If you’re traveling somewhere that lupine is on the menu, try it out!
**Lightner, San Diego County Native Plants (see this reference for pictures of local lupine species)
- Foster & Hobbs, Medicinal Plants and Herbs
- Garcia & Adams, Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West
- Lupinus in Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupinus
- (This article has information on the history of lupine as a food source around the world.)