Read about skyblue lupine, Lupinus diffusus, and two consistent themes become apparent — how beautiful it is and how finicky it is to grow.
Skyblue lupine is a Florida native and by our eyes among the loveliest wildflowers growing in the Sunshine State. No other plant that we've seen puts out masses of flowers quite like a fully mature lupine in the peak of the season. It will be covered with countless spikes of blues and whites. Add in the large size of the plant and a sunny spring day, and you have before you something akin to a living miracle. It's simply, amazingly, extraordinarily gorgeous.
But you're not likely ever going to see it growing at your neighborhood nursery. Skyblue lupine is just too picky about where it grows and how it's handled.
The native range for skyblue lupine, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is the Southeast, particularly Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. Drill down further and you find it mostly growing in Florida — the USDA has it in most of the state as far south as Broward and Collier counties.
It requires two things to grow: full sun and well-drained sandy soil. Native habitats include scrub, coastal strands, sand hills and pine flat woods. Its seeds can lie dormant for years, waiting for just the right conditions to germinate.
Skyblue lupine spends its first year growing, putting out only leaves; the second year, it continues to grow but puts out a few flower spikes, technically called racemes. The third year, it explodes with blue, violet and even pink flowers.
Skyblue lupine can grow to as much as three-and-a-half feet tall, and spread just as wide. It is shrubby, with multiple stems and leaves that are elliptical in shape and somewhat velvety to the touch. Flowers give way to seed pods that are also velvety. Spring is the flowering season; we've seen them bloom as early as January and into March.
The problem for commercial growers and backyard landscapers is that it just doesn't like to be moved at all. If you try to grow the seeds in a pot, most will germinate, but they most likely will die soon afterwards. Transplant the seedlings that do survive and odds are they'll croak too. Try to transplant a mature lupine and it will die. We've seen sources selling seeds on the internet (how reliable they are we don't know) but unless the seeds are planted under the right conditions they will die. If they do live, congratulations, you've beaten some long odds.
One thing we noticed is that the flowers do attract bees. The plants are full of toxic alkaloids, the kinds of chemicals that might make it attractive as a butterfly host — the gray hairstreak does use it as a host along with other plants but doesn't pick up the poisons. Skyblue lupine is also one of South Florida's rarest wildflowers, found in only 11 natural areas, according to the Institute for Regional Conservation. Four of those happen to be in Palm Beach County. Other names for skyblue lupine include Oak Ridge lupine and spreading lupine. It is a member of Fabaceae, the pea family.