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Alaska Wildflowers | Purple

Arctic Lupine

Lupinus arcticus S. Watson

Genus: Lupinus L. (lupine)
Family: Fabaceae/Leguminosae (Pea family)
Order: Fabales

Duration: Perennial

Uses: None – plant is poisonous, especially the seeds


The arctic lupine is a purple-flowering, herbaceous plant that commonly grows between 30-50 cm (12-20 in) tall. The long stems grow from a long taproot. It may have a single stem or many stems from a single plant. Each stem has an inflorescence of many (up to 30) pealike, dark blue, or purple flowers occurring in a tall raceme. Flowers are typically wooly, especially the buds. The leaves have long stems and are palmate with narrow, ovate leaflets.

Toxins and Sparteine

Along with numerous other alkaloid toxins, a neurological toxin called Sparteine is found in the arctic lupine. Studies by Gregory Sharam and Roy Turkington showed that the concentration of sparteine in Lupinus arcticus is higher at night and lowest in the afternoon. In fact, the sparteine concentration could be nearly 5 times lower in the afternoon hours. The production of alkaloids is typically linked to photosynthesis and would usually have the highest concentrations in the day, like in other lupine species.

It is thought that the timing of this concentration developed as a defensive response to the grazing cycle of the snowshoe hare, the dominant herbivore in northern boreal forests.

Distribution and Habitat

Lupinus arcticus is native to Alaska, Northern Canada including British Columbia and Alberta, Washington state, and Oregon.

Arctic lupines are frequently found in white spruce boreal forests and subalpine ridges or mountainsides. Seems to prefer well-drained soil and partial shade.

References and Further Reading

Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg 11
Diurnal cycle of sparteine production in Lupinus arcticus, Sharam and Turkington, Canadian Journal of Botony
Lupinus arcticus  S. Watson, ITIS Database
Lupinus arcticus S. Watson arctic lupine, USDA Database
Lupinus arcticus, Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

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