Did you know that the famous Prince Edward Island lupins were actually imported?
It’s lupine season on Prince Edward Island, which means ditches and roadsides are teeming with perennial purple, pink and white blooms – and photographers are trying to capture that perfect shot.
But are you ready for a shock? Lupins are not native to Prince Edward Island. That’s right, they were imported.
“They made their way here probably in the early 1900s as a garden plant,” said PEI natural historian Kate MacQuarrie. island morningis Laura Chapin.
MacQuarrie says the lupines found on Prince Edward Island are native to the west coast of North America and thinks they were likely brought from there by settlers for their gardens.
“Some of the earliest records we have of lupines in PEI actually came from cemeteries, so people were planting them on graves,” she says, noting that those earliest records date back to 1905.
How did the lupines spread everywhere, from one end of the island to the other?
“Some of that spread would have been natural, that’s for sure,” MacQuarrie says. “But they were definitely helped by people. I remember even growing up here in PEI in the 1980s, it was a pretty popular thing to scatter lupine seeds, and I understand that even the Women’s Institute had a campaign to beautify the roadsides of the island with lupins.”
Tips for establishing
Have you tried scattering lupine seeds but had no luck with germination? MacQuarrie has some advice.
- Gather them in late fall when dried – you’ll hear the seeds rattle in the pods.
- Put them in the freezer for the winter to imitate nature and then plant in the spring.
- Soak them in water for about a day to soften their tough seed coat.
- Put them in contact with the ground instead of just throwing them on the vegetation.
Lupins are already so widespread across the island that it’s too late to worry about the spread of an invasive species.
“If you like them and you like them in your front yard or ditch, go for it,” she says.
However, the plants can be toxic to livestock and pets. MacQuarrie therefore advises against planting them where they might creep into a pasture or hay field. Bouquets in your home should be kept away from pets.
Also, keep flowers out of reach of small children, she says.
“They’re not very toxic, you know it wouldn’t be a panic situation, but you don’t want to encourage it,” she says.
While lupins are a type of pea, and some types of lupins are bred to be edible, those that grow wild in the ditch are not.
If you want colors different from the ubiquitous pink, purple or white found in the ditches of Prince Edward Island, you can purchase lupines in a rainbow of colors from the local seed distributors.
“We think he looks great”
Vesey’s Seeds in York says lupine seeds are popular with islanders in the spring and then later in the summer with tourists.
The company sells several thousand packets of hybrid lupine seeds each year. He also does personalized seed packaging with personalized messages for occasions such as weddings or birthdays, and along with sunflowers, lupins are the most popular choice.
“In July and August, when tourists who may have been here in June saw them and found out what they were, they contacted us when they got home,” John Barrett of Vesey’s told CBC Radio’s Angela Walker.
Bees and hummingbirds love lupins, he says, which is one of the reasons they spread so quickly: They’re cross-pollinated.
Barrett says that in New Zealand, lupins are considered invasive and there are efforts to get rid of them.
“To us, we think it looks great, but if you’re trying to grow anything else, you might not be interested in it,” he said.