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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

The legend of the lupin

July 3, 2009
By Jim Junttila

With apple, chokecherry and mountain ash berry blossoms on their way out and lilacs on their last legs, the Keweenaw's lovely, long-standing lupins are in season.

"From L'Anse Vegas to Liminga, Trout Crick to Toivola, and the toppa Quincy Hill to the tippa the Keweenaw, moist roadside ditches, fields and stream banks are chock fulla tall stands of elegant, showy lavendar, pink and purple lupin," said WW&W Wildflower Correspondent Paris Hiltunen, standing up to her waist in them near Lac la Belle.

Wild Perennial Lupin (Lupinus perennis), also known as Sundial lupin, Indian beet and Old Maid's bonnets, is a medicinal plant widespread in the eastern United States from Florida to Canada and as far north as the coast of the Arctic Ocean, where it grows on sand hills. A member of the legume family, it is used as a larval food plant by caterpillars, butterflies and moths.

The beautiful, fragrant flowers grow in dense, open whorls on an erect spike with a peaflower shape on top. One species known as the bluebonnet is the Texas state flower. Lupins can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia, fertilizing the soil for other plants.

"I read in Wikipedia where the yellow legume seeds, commonly called lupin beans, were popular among the Roman civilization who cultivated them throughout the empire, hence common names like "lupini" in the Romance languages," Paris said.

In less romantic languages, like Finnish, they call it "Lupinen." Legend has it that it was first brought to the Keweenaw and transplanted on the Lupinen family farm backa Liminga. Subsequent generations have anglicized the name on down to lupin.

"Lupin beans were also sold in a salty solution like olives and pickles and can be eaten with or without the skin," she continued. "Lupini dishes are commonly found in Mediterranean countries, especially Egypt, Italy and Portugal where they are popularly served with beer. I know I sure like them that way."

"Newly-bred hybrids and variants of sweet lupin are grown in Germany and used in vegan sausages and lupin-tofu, making them popular with vegetarians and hippies," she added. "Lupin seeds have a full range of essential amino acids and are increasingly recognized as a cash crop alternative to soy, cultivated as forage and grain legumes. The bean was also a favorite food among Incan and Native American cultures."

Similar to the kudzu (Pueria lobata), also known as the foot-a-night vine, mile-a-minute vine or the "vine that ate the south," they are popular ornamental plants in gardens to some and invasive weeds to others. I guess it's a matter of lupinion. I've found bumper crops of lupin along Superior Road in Liminga, Centennial Heights near Calumet and Bete Gris.

They also grow in profusion along Woodtick Crick and other brookie streams where I take time to stop and smell the lupinen along with the wild roses, and take a whiff of wisteria while I'm at it. I like cornflowers and columbines as well.

"I love lupin too," said WW&W Trout Stream Correspondent Brookie Shields, "but it's almost too good to be true that trout lilies bloom during brookie season." We watched in wonder as the long-stemmed flowers moved across the field like something was walking through them. You can imagine our surprise to see a wily coyote lopin' through the lupin downstream in broad daylight.

"Don't that beat all!" exclaimed Brookie as she deftly drifted halfa crawler under a deeply undercut bank overgrown with lupin, felt the big yank, and hoisted a thrashing brookie the size of a beer bottle outa the dark water the color of Red Jacket Oatmeal Stout. She tucked the fish in the backa her vest, slipped another halfa crawler through the same drift, and had another fat, hungry specky on in minutes.

"They may not be spawning yet, but they're definitely making out under there," Brookie smiled as we waded through the waist-high lupinen and back to the van, keeping an eye out for coyotes.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at



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