For the Love of Lupine: A Naturalist Study

The other day, I was driving through one of our Oregon State Parks, and a sea of purple flowers caught my eye.  Lupines.  A towering field of the beauties in full bloom.  I made a mental note to stop back with a camera.

Lupines_Field of in Early Evening

Hanging out in a field of lupines is the perfect, peaceful end to a day.

Early that evening, I drove by a second time.  I couldn’t help myself.  I leapt out of the truck and headed straight for the field.  An hour later, I emerged.  Late for dinner and grinning from ear to ear.  In 60 minutes, I traveled no more than 10 feet and took 100 photos.  I had a million questions.  I have been scouring my wildflower guides and the internet since, and rather than less, I now have even more.  Although I know far more about the lupine than when I set off to study them, I find now that I feel like I know less than ever.  So goes the journey of discovery.

Below is the condensed version of what I found:

Lupine, the Plant

Flowers_In Bloom Side View

Lupine in bloom – a side view. These plants were about a head shorter than I – so up to 4 feet tall.

Flowers_In Bloom

The view from above of a lupine in full bloom.

Flowers_Early Side View

Another side view of lupine – this one is early in its blooming stage. You can see the upper flowers have not yet opened.

Flowers_Early

View from above of an early bloom.

 

Flower Arrangements

Flower Arrangement_Whorled

When I looked more closely at the flowers, I found that some of the flowers spiraled up the stem – like a string of DNA!

Flower Arrangement_Tiered (2)

However, on other plants, the flowers were arranged in a circle like a wagon wheel with tiers stacked upon one another. Are these two the same species?

 

A Closer Look at Flowers

Flower_Up Close

Here is a close-up of the lupine flower – the top part is called the “banner petal.” Note how curved it is! The lower petals are two and called “wings.” Tucked inside the wings are two more petals forming the “keel.”

Flower_Up Close Inside

Here is an inside peek into the lupine flower – I learned by watching the bees, that a light pressure on the top of the wings causes the keel of the flower to pop out. The two petals that make up the keel protect the inner workings of the flower. Inside are the male and female parts of the flower – including the pollen that the bees are after.

 

Leaves

Leaf

The leaf of a flower is an important part of identification! Unfortunately, it is this leaf that is throwing off my ID. This flower is the size of a “broadleaf lupine” (few other lupines are as tall!) – but the leaves do not seem particularly broad or as round as described. A mystery.

 

Seeds

Lupine_Seed

The lupine seed!

Lupine_Seed in Dried Flower

Here you can see the banner petal, wings, and keel surrounding the seed. It gives an idea of how it all unravels!

Lupine_About to Seed

Going backwards, here is a flower just before seeding.

Lupine_Flowers in Various Stages of Seeding

One plant will have flowers in various stages of seeding.

 

Bumble Bees

Bumble Bee

While I stood among the lupines, a soft buzz filled the air. Bumble bees were everywhere!

Bumble Bee_Giant Pollen Baskets

Check out the GIANT pollen baskets on this bee!  The bees store pollen on the tibia of their hind legs (the lower portion of the last set of three sets they have.)

Bumble Bee_Working on Flower

After pushing open the wing petals, the bee dives in with its hind legs to gather pollen.

Bumble Bee_Leaving Flower

Then the bee pushes off and heads to the next flower. From my observations, the bees tend to start low on the plant and then spiral their way up making frequent stops. Check out the keel petals still poking out from the wing petals!

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Posted on June 10, 2014, in Plants & Wildlife, Seasons, Weather & Scenery and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Wow, I had no idea there was so much going on with a lupine, your pics are fantastic !

    • I didn’t know either until I stopped and really looked! Just fascinating, isn’t it? Makes one wonder what other flowers have going on behind the showy curtains!

  2. These are such true works of art! Until this year, I had heard of lupines but never actually seen any. While volunteering at Willamette Heritage Center at the Mill’s Sheep to Shawl, I was totally entranced by the stunning purple flowers in a bed against the porch of the Parsonage. A knowledgeable visitor informed me that what I was admiring were lupines. And they’re now another one of my best favorite flowers! Thanks for the info and great pictures!

  3. Beautiful photos!!!
    Janet 🙂
    Hi to all my Ranger friends.

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