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Genus Lupinus

Genus Lupinus.

Lupines — or lupins, both spellings coexist — are autonomous plants. Belonging to the Legume family, they supply nitrogen to the soil, from fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. They do not achieve this feat unaided but from from symbiosis with a rhyzobium fungus. The roots display nodules containing Bradyrhizobium microorganisms. Accordingly, lupines can grow even in infertile soils.
In addition, whenever given the chance, they attempt to take over the world. Literally. In both New Zealand and Finland, designers of new roads planted a non-native species of lupine to enhance the new construction. In no time, the plants escaped into the wild and invaded the countryside.
Such opportunism on the part of lupines was evident even in Roman times. Thus, the name. ‘Lupine,’ i.e., which pertains to wolves: the plant has a tendency to ravage the land on which it grows and accordingly thrives. Indeed, lupines spread through the whole extent of the Roman Empire. Nowadays, to give just this one instance, lupines cover the mountaintop of Raspberry Island, in Alaska.
This fierce reputation goes with an awesome adaptability, no fewer than 280 different species pertain to the Lupinus genus. They are herbaceous perenniels, 0.3-1.5 m tall, with erect spikes bearing flowers, showing as dense or open whorls. Each flower is 1-2 cm long and is peaflower shaped, with an upper ‘banner’, two lateral ‘wings’ and two lower petals fused into a ‘keel’. The leaves are characteristic, blades of a soft green to a grey green, likely to bear silvery hairs.
Is this gorgeous aesthetic a ploy to conceal the ferocious appetite for more and even more land? Whatever, it has succeeded in making lupines into a favorite of gardeners — and of a few roadbuilders, having had either too little information or too much daring!
Which does not imply that lupines are offensive only because of their ability at spreading over land. As a rule, they also carry toxic chemicals, both isoflavones and alkaloids, such as sparteine and lupininine. In addition, their symbiosis with the fungus Diaporthe toxica produces mycotoxins causing liver damage. Livestock can suffer. Humans do not undergo usually anything more severe than an allergy.
Although ,there are edible lupines. There is such a tradition especially in countries with Romance languages, such as Italy, Portugal and Brazil. Dishes consist of the seeds from sweet lupines, thus named because they contain fewer toxic alkaloids. Accordingly, they are less bitter. Recourse to selection has led, in Germany in particular, to newly bred variants which lack bitter taste and do not have to be soaked in water prior to preparing.
Since lupine seeds offer a full range of amino acids and since they can be grown in temperate to cool climates, they are coming to enjoy the status of a cash crop comparable to soy. Since they can be grown on poor soils, this adds yet to their appeal.
It would be a pity, though, if their appeal to our money-making instincts were to lead, from selection or from genetic engineering, to a curb on their wild nature, whether it would result in weakened toxicity or, perhaps even worse, a reduction in biodiversity.