Wild blue lupine may be the most endeared native flower here in Northwest Ohio. It has become the symbol of the Oak Openings Region preservation efforts.
Wild blue lupine is a potentially threatened species in Ohio. This native plant used to grow here in the sandy soil in great abundance.
It had been eradicated from this area as a result of mowing, weed control, and fire suppression. It hadn’t been seen growing in the wild here since the 1980s.
The Nature Conservancy is successfully growing lupine at Kitty Todd Preserve. The Toledo Area Metroparks has also reintroduced wild blue lupine at Oak Openings Preserve.
Blue lupine is the lone host plant for a little butterfly called the Karner Blue. When Karner blue larvae emerge in the spring they will only eat lupine leaves. When the lupine disappeared from Ohio so did the karner blue butterfly.
Now that lupine is coming back so is the karner blue butterfly.
Lupine grows on the open sand ridges and oak savannas of the Oak Openings. It can also be found in open woods. It prefers loamy or sandy soil.
Wild lupine begins to emerge here in the early spring, typically mid to late May. The flowers last for a few weeks and are then gone until next year.
The flowers of wild blue lupine are typically blue, but can also be white and shades of purple. They are on a 3 to 7 inch elongated spike.
The flowers turn to peapod-like seed pods. The seed pods are also similar to soybean pods. The outer shell is fuzzy and is around 2 inches long.
The pods can contain up to 10 or 20 seeds. The seeds are fairly large, approximately 1/8 inch round.
As the pods dry they twist in a spiral fashion. This builds up pressure causing the pods to pop. The seeds are then launched several feet in all directions.
If you are in a patch of wild blue lupine when the seeds are drying you can hear the pods exploding. They will sometimes pop open in your hands if you are collecting the seeds.
Wild blue lupine is not too difficult to grow. Once it is established it does pretty well. The plant is well equipped to propagate itself since the seed pods explode and spread the seeds quite nicely.
Lupine likes dry and sandy (loamy) soil. It prefers open areas where it gets full sun, but it will also grow in part shade. It will grow in an open wooded area but it takes longer for it to get established. You really need to have a good amount of sun for it to do well.
Plant the seeds in the fall after the first frost. This will ensure that it won't start to grow and get bit by the cold weather to come. It also allows the seeds to cold stratify during the winter months. Like most prairie plants these seeds need to be exposed to cold, moist conditions before they will germinate.
The seeds can be spread on the open sand, but I prefer to cover them with a light layer of soil no more than 1/4 inch. That's all there is too it. They emerge in the very early spring. When the plants first come up they look like a sunflower plant until they get some very small lupine leaves .
If the plants grow well the first year you may have a couple flower stalks the second year.
The best place to see wild blue lupine flowers is at Kitty Todd Preserve.
The annual Blue Weekend at Kitty Todd is a celebration of blue lupine and the Karner Blue Butterfly.
Wild blue lupine can sometimes be found with plains puccoon. The contrast of the blue and yellow flowers is very pretty.