Lupin(e)s

A recent postcard from Chris Ambidge, from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, depicted (among other things) a beautiful Lupinus perennis, a threatened wildflower of the eastern U.S.:

Lupines, both wild and cultivated, have long been among my favorite plants. Here in California, a number of species (mostly blue, some yellow) grow wild in great profusion. Back in Ohio, I tried to grow Russell hybrids, but they were short-lived; the climate and relatively heavy soil (even with my hard work amending it) didn’t seem to agree with them.

Some words about the plants, and then some about the etymology of lupin(e).

Start with Lupinus perennis and its sad story. From Wikipedia:

Lupinus perennis (also Indian beet, Old maid’s bonnets, Blue lupine, and Sundial lupine) is a medicinal plant in the Fabaceae family. It is widespread in the eastern part of the USA (from Florida to Maine), Canada (south of Ontario), and on the coasts of the Arctic Ocean, where it grows on sand hills.

… Sundial lupine has been declining in number and range since the Industrial Revolution. It is estimated that it has declined in number by about 90% since 1900…The main causes of its decline are thought to be habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and poor management. Currently it is threatened in Iowa, Maryland and New Hampshire; it is endangered in Vermont and may be extirpated in Maine. Human development has eliminated a large portion of its viable habitat. Remaining habitat is often fragmented, which is problematic for the lupine because it limits the range over which it can reproduce. Viable sundial lupine habitat is often difficult to maintain because it flourishes after fires and other forms of disturbance. One reason this occurs is that sundial lupine seed coats are so tough that only pressure changes due to rapid heating or abrasion are strong enough to allow water to penetrate and start germination. Moreover, fires, feeding by large ungulates, and mowing can improve habitat quality for established lupines by changing soil quality, vegetative structure, leaf litter depth. The exact mechanism for this is currently being investigated. Overall, the primary issue is that not enough habitat is burned or otherwise disturbed frequently enough to support the plant.

Then on lupin(e)s in general (lupine is the preferred spelling in North America, lupin in the U.K.):

Lupinus, commonly known as lupins or lupines (North America), is a genus in the legume family (Fabaceae). The genus comprises about 280 species (Hughes), with major centers of diversity in South and western North America …, parts of the Southern Hemisphere (New Zealand and parts of Australia) and the Andes and secondary centers in the Mediterranean region and Africa

… The yellow legume seeds of lupins, commonly called lupin beans, were popular with the Romans, who spread the plant’s cultivation throughout the Roman Empire; hence common names like lupini in Romance languages. The name ‘Lupin’ derives from the Latin word lupinus (meaning wolf), and was given with regard to the fact that many found that the plant has a tendency to ravage the land on which it grows. The peas, which appear after the flowering period, were also said to be fit only for the consumption of wolves. Lupin beans are commonly sold in a salty solution in jars (like olives and pickles) and can be eaten with or without the skin. (link)

The etymology is clear, but the association with wolves is not so clear. The OED doesn’t venture an explanation, and the Online Etymology Dictionary is cautious:

The reason for association with the animal is unclear; perhaps it was so called because of a belief that the plants were harmful to soil

The cultivars I tried to grow in Ohio were the colorful and gorgeous Russell hybrids:

These are Lupinus X russellii, hybrids of L. polyphyllus, L. arboreus, and one or more annual species.

Now up the taxonomic chain to the family level:

The Fabaceae or Leguminosae, commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family, is a large and economically important family of flowering plants. The group is the third largest land plant family, behind only the Orchidaceae and Asteraceae, with 730 genera and over 19,400 species. The largest genera are Astragalus (over 2,400 species), Acacia (over 950 species), Indigofera (around 700 species), Crotalaria (around 700 species), and Mimosa (around 500 species).

Plants of this family are found throughout the world, growing in many different environments and climates. A number are important agricultural plants, including: Glycine max (soybean), Phaseolus (beans), Pisum sativum (pea), Cicer arietinum (chickpeas), Medicago sativa (alfalfa), Arachis hypogaea (peanut), Ceratonia siliqua (carob), and Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice), which are among the best known members of Fabaceae.

The family is another with an older name (Leguminosae, or legume family) and a newer name (Fabaceae, or Faba family)  based on a type genus, as explained in Wikipedia (on alternative family names, see here):

The Fabaceae or Leguminosae, commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family, is a large and economically important family of flowering plants. The group is the third largest land plant family, behind only the Orchidaceae and Asteraceae, with 730 genera and over 19,400 species. The largest genera are Astragalus (over 2,400 species), Acacia (over 950 species), Indigofera (around 700 species), Crotalaria (around 700 species), and Mimosa (around 500 species).

Plants of this family are found throughout the world, growing in many different environments and climates. A number are important agricultural plants, including: Glycine max (soybean), Phaseolus (beans), Pisum sativum (pea), Cicer arietinum (chickpeas), Medicago sativa (alfalfa), Arachis hypogaea (peanut), Ceratonia siliqua (carob), and Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice), which are among the best known members of Fabaceae.

A number of species are also weedy pests in different parts of the world, including: Cytisus scoparius (broom), Ulex europaeus (gorse), Pueraria lobata (kudzu), and a number of Lupinus species.

The name ‘Fabaceae’ comes from the defunct genus Faba, now included in Vicia. The term “faba” comes from Latin, and appears to simply mean “bean”. Leguminosae is an older name still considered valid, and refers to the fruit of these plants, which are called legumes.

A number of species are also weedy pests in different parts of the world, including: Cytisus scoparius (broom), Ulex europaeus (gorse), Pueraria lobata (kudzu), and a number of Lupinus species.

The name ‘Fabaceae’ comes from the defunct genus Faba, now included in Vicia. The term “faba” comes from Latin, and appears to simply mean “bean”. Leguminosae is an older name still considered valid, and refers to the fruit of these plants, which are called legumes.

What about the word legume? OED2 has the etymology:

< French légume, < Latin legūmen, < leg-ĕre to gather, in allusion to the fact that the fruit may be gathered by hand

Back to lupines, a topic I can’t leave without a Monty Python reference, to their Dennis Moore sketch. Dennis Moore the highwayman, who robs (lupines) from the rich to give (them) to the poor. A crucial bit of the sketch:

Moore: Shut up! It’s a hold-up, not a Botany lesson. Now, no false moves please. I want you to hand over all the lupins you’ve got.

Squire: Lupins?

Moore: Yes, lupins. Come on, come on.

Parson: What do you mean, lupins?

Moore: Don’t try to play for time.

Parson: I’m not, but… the flower lupin?

Moore: Yes, that’s right.

Squire: Well we haven’t got any lupins.

Girl: Honestly.

Moore: Look, my friends. I happen to know that this is the Lupin Express.

This still breaks me up every time. Here’s the video:

Hand over your lupines!

 

One Response to “Lupin(e)s”

  1. the ridger Says:

    “Blimey, this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought.”

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