Big-leaf lupine is a bright shot of eye-candy for hikers and gardeners this time of the year, thanks to dense clusters of blue to purple flowers blooming on spikes that can be as long as 16 inches.
Also known as large-leaved lupine, it’s one of 150-200 species of lupine, with at least seven of them found in Whatcom County, according to a Washington Native Plant Society list. They grow big at sea level and smaller in the mountains, where they, nevertheless, carpet meadows with stunning displays of color.
The big-leaf is a favorite of gardeners, who love its hardiness and good looks. This native is found from British Columbia down to California, and in other colors, such as pink, orange, red, yellow and white.
Lupines, members of the pea family, enrich poor soil by taking nitrogen from the air and turning it into ammonia. Some kids may best know the plant from a book about a woman who planted them far and wide to make the world a prettier place.
“There is a delightful children’s picture book called ‘Miss Rumphius’ by Barbara Cooney about a lady who plants lupine, kind of a Johnny Appleseed,” says Rae Edwards, a local naturalist and park volunteer coordinator for Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department.
Sources: Local naturalists Rae Edwards and Jim Edwards; “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast,” by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon; “Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest,” by Mark Turner and Phyllis Gustafson