If you haven’t been to the North Shore in the summer months to see these beautiful purple flowers fill the landscape, you should consider it. It’s something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
The Lupine, part of the legume family (it’s related to peas!), is a distinct flower that displays beautiful colors during its blooming season, drawing spectators from all over the country. It is a cool weather plant that dies down from the heat of the summer and some years may not even put up a stem if the temperatures are too warm (though that is rare on the North Shore). The plant prefers well-drained, sandy soils that are fully exposed to the sun. Although there are hundreds of kinds of Lupine, Wild Lupine and Large-Leaved Lupine are most prominent along the North Shore.
The flower itself has an upper and lower portion that is typically blue/purple but can also be pink or white. The upper and lower parts of the flower have dark veins that are forcibly opened by insects to reach their horn-shaped stamen. They typically stand around 8-18” tall and have pea-like flowers that bloom in June and July. Usually growing in bunches, these flowers will be easy to notice with their vibrant colors sticking out from the green brush typically surrounding them.
While beautiful, only Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) is native to the North Shore. This species isn’t as common as the Large-Leaved Lupin (Lupinus polyphyllus). These flowers are not native to the North Shore. However, the area has ideal conditions for this species to thrive in. Over the past 20 years, their presence has spread so significantly that you can see them virtually everywhere along the shore. So when we talk about these flowers, we are mostly referring to the Large-Leaved species, not the native Wild species.
Unfortunately, the Large-Leaved species has started taking up growing space for native wildflowers, including Wild Lupine, causing them to no longer grow and thrive in areas where Large-Leaved Lupine are abundant. Therefore, they are considered an invasive species.
At this time, they are considered only a moderate threat. But, one problem with letting lupine thrive is that the flower and the seeds are toxic to much of the wildlife on the North Shore. Meanwhile, they are pushing out edible wildflowers that wildlife depends on for food in the spring and summer. This makes finding food more difficult for wildlife, whose population may start to suffer. Potentially, these beautiful flowers could affect the population of some beloved North Shore animals.
Lupine flowers were able to grow and thrive in northern Minnesota due to being planted in flower gardens. The hardy flowers were then spread by bees and animals as they moved about, spreading the seeds. The Minnesota DNR strongly discourages contributing to the spread of all invasive species, no matter how beautiful. Please do not pick or plant lupine.