There are many kinds of lupines, both annuals and perennials (some are grown as annuals because they are short-lived in many regions). The most widely planted are hybrids grown under the name of Lupinus regalis, which have stout spires of many colors. Lupines are members of the legume or pea family and bear the typical pea-shaped flower.
Description of lupine: The best known are Russell hybrids, which, under favorable conditions, can grow up to 5 feet tall. Compact varieties topping out at 18 inches are also available. A rosette of foliage is composed of many leaves resembling bird's feet. The flower stalk appears in late May or early June surrounded with many flowers of varied colors -- white, pink, red, blues of many hues, yellow, and apricot. Many have bicolored flowers, usually including white contrasting with another color.
Growing lupine: The so-called perennial lupines grow best in areas with cool summers and mild winters. Elsewhere, they are best treated as annuals, planted into the ground in spring as soon as the soil can be worked. They resent root disturbance and should be planted out from 4-inch or larger pots in order to bloom the first season. Lupines want full sun; moderately rich, well-drained soil; and continuous moisture. They grow best in acid or neutral soil. The tallest varieties should be planted in areas protected from high winds, or staked to prevent toppling. Plant largest varieties 12 to 15 inches apart; shorter ones in a 3- to 5-inch spacing.
Propagating lupine: By seed. For husky plants, start seeds in January to transplant outdoors as soon as the ground is workable. Since seeds are very hard, soak them overnight or cut a small nick in the seed coat prior to planting. Germination takes 15 to 25 days at 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Uses for lupine: The tall lupines are unparalleled for bright color in late May and June. They add a vertical note to the mixed border, as well as in planting beds. Plant them in groups of at least three. Use them at the ends or centers of plantings, fronted by lower-growing varieties.
Lupine related species: The Texas bluebonnet (L. carnosus or L. texensis) is an annual that covers thousands of square miles of southwestern countryside in the spring. Flower color is mostly blue with some whites. Seeds are available. L. luteus is a yellow-flowered, fragrant, annual species. The blue lupine (L. hirsutus) is an annual variety native to Europe that is sometimes grown in gardens.
Lupine related varieties: The tall Russell varieties are available as separate colors: Yellow, White, Red, Pink, Carmine, as well as bicolors of blue and white, cream and white, and pink and white. Mixtures of all colors are also available. Minarette is a dwarf mixture of colors.
Scientific name for lupine: Lupinus species