Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Few wildflowers are more characteristic of the western mountains and grasslands than the lupines. Only a single native species inhabits eastern North America, but at least seventy species occur in the west. Silvery lupine can be found in most North Dakota counties west of the Missouri River. Elsewhere, the plant ranges west to British Columbia and south to Arizona.
Silvery lupine is a perennial from twelve to thirty inches tall. Older plants usually have several stems from a heavy taproot. Dense hairs on stems and leaves give the plant a silvery appearance. Leaves are about two inches long, the tips divided into six to eight narrow leaflets that radiate like fingers from a hand. Above the leaves, blue flowers form in narrow, curved clusters up to eight inches long. Inch-long pods (legumes) containing dark yellow seeds develop later.
Look for silvery lupine in clay-soil pastures that are moderately or lightly grazed. Cattle seem to avoid the plant, perhaps they sense that this and many other lupines contain dozens of notoriously toxic alkaloids. Other lupines are beneficial, however, and have been used for human foods and drinks, and grown for livestock forage and green manure to rehabilitate worn-out soils in many areas.
Lupines are members of the highly important bean family (Fabaceae). Fab means "bean" in Latin. The generic name Lupinus is an ancient name for these plants taken from lupus, "wolf", because of an old belief that the plants destroy the soul. The specific epithet argenteus means "silvery" in botanical Latin. Silvery lupine was first described for science in 1814 by the famous German botanist Frederick Pursh. Pursh catalogued and described many of the new plant species brought back from the western wilderness by Lewis and Clark.