Lupinus polyphyllus Lindl.

Common Name: Marsh lupine

Synonyms and Other Names:

bigleaf lupine, marsh lupine, Washington lupine; Garden lupine; Altramuz perenne

Copyright Info

Identification: Marsh lupine is a perennial herb with a branched, somewhat rhizomatous stem-base; stems are erect, up to 1.5 m tall, generally unbranched, cylindric-hollow at the base, usually nearly glabrous but sometimes soft- or stiff-hairy. Leaves are basal and alternate along the stem, palmately compound, the stalks of the basal leaves often much longer than those of the stem leaves; leaflets 9 to 17, elliptic-oblanceolate, pointed at the tip, 3-12 cm long, glabrous above, sparsely stiff-hairy below. Flowers involve a dense, stalked, terminal raceme, up to 40 cm long, of whorled or somewhat scattered, pea-like flowers; corollas bluish to violet, glabrous, 11-16 mm long, the banner nearly circular and slightly shorter than the wings; calyces about equally 2-lipped, both lips entire or minutely toothed. Fruits are curved pods, densely long-soft-hairy, 3-5 cm long; seeds 6 to 10, greyish with dark mottling.

This species is a perennial legume with flower colour varying from purple to yellow and red. Preferred habitats include areas with low fertility, rocky, sandy or loose textured soils and medium to high rainfall. The plant's large seeds give it a distinct advantage for establishment in low fertility soils. (Klinkenberg 2007)

Size: up to 1.5 m tall

Native Range: Western parts of North America with an oceanic climate: Canada (British Columbia), United States (Alaska, west Oregon, west Washington, north California) (Fremstad 2006).  

Map Key
This map only depicts Great Lakes introductions.

Great Lakes Nonindigenous Occurrences: Introduced into the eastern parts of North America and naturalized in many countries in Europe. It is recorded in the following Great Lakes states: MI, MN, NY, WI.

The first Great Lakes record was in Lake Superior in 1982. 

Table 1. Great Lakes region nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Lupinus polyphyllus are found here.

State/ProvinceFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
MI1959201811Black-Presque Isle; Brule; Dead-Kelsey; Flint; Great Lakes Region; Keweenaw Peninsula; Muskegon; Ontonagon; Raisin; Southcentral Lake Superior; St. Marys
MN200720133Baptism-Brule; Cloquet; St. Louis
WI197620168Bad-Montreal; Beartrap-Nemadji; Black-Presque Isle; Brule; Menominee; Peshtigo; Southwestern Lake Superior; Wolf

Table last updated 7/23/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

Ecology: L. polyphyllus grows on shores, in meadows and roadsides and other disturbed habitats. Its habitats are also characterized as ‘shady, moderately dry, well-drained, sandy-loam soil' (Fremstad 2006).

Means of Introduction: L. polyphyllus has been introduced intentionally, initially and primarily as an ornamental (garden) plant. Later, it was introduced and bred for other purposes but especially for soil improvement and stabilisation and as fodder for domestic animals and wildlife (Fremstad 2006).

L. polyphyllus grows in symbiosis with a nitrogen-fixing bacterium, Bradyrhizobium sp., which causes growth of root nodules. The bacterium acquires molecular nitrogen from the atmosphere. Soils where L. polyphyllus grows are enriched with nitrogen, which may be used by other plants as well. This ability to increase soil fertility is the main reason for the diverse and widespread use of the plant. It has also been planted as a “green manure” (intercrop) on cultivated fields and as a game fodder. It was used in fire-protection belts in forests. The species is also used for breeding hybrids with other lupins (Fremstad 2006).

Status: Introduced through intentional planting, naturalized.

Great Lakes Impacts:
Summary of species impacts derived from literature review. Click on an icon to find out more...


Current research on the environmental impact of Lupinus polyphyllus in the Great Lakes is inadequate to support proper assessment.
The effect on indigenous plants is most obvious where L. polyphyllus occurs in extensive, rather dense stands which suppress native species. It can outcompete native species occurring in road verges, ruderal areas, gravelly floodplains and other open habitats. Eutrophication of nutrient-poor sites and consequent changes in community structure and diversity is the main problem when L. polyphyllus invades an area (Fremstad 2006).

Twenty-nine quinolizidine alkaloids have been found and characterized from the combined leaf/hypocotyl extracts of Lupinus polyphyllus (Veen et al 1992).  Lupin alkaloids inhibit germination of many seeds and L. polyphyllus may outcompete native plants via this mechanism (Wink 1983, Muzquiz et al 1994), especially  in open habitats.  Due to the nitrogen-fixing nodules L. polyphyllus changes the soil chemistry in favour of nitrogen-demanding species. Thus, L. polyphyllus causes a change in nutrient content of soil and, eventually, in plant communities.

Alkaloids present in the plant are mildy toxic and cause a bitter taste.  Most herbivores quickly learn to avoid them.

Lupinus polyphyllus is known to hybridize with other lupines.  It is unknown whether it is hybridizing with the sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) native to the Great Lakes region. 

There is little or no evidence to support that Lupinus polyphyllus has significant socio-economic impacts in the Great Lakes.
Lupine contamination of hay raises alkaloid content and may negatively impact the usefulness of hay as fodder and hence its value.

Lupinus polyphyllus has a moderate beneficial impact in the Great Lakes. 

L. polyphyllus is an important agricultural plant with a wide variety of cultivars differing in chemical characters, growth potential, and use. Hay from fields with an intermixture of L. polyphyllus may be less valuable due to the alkaloid content of the plant, and the fields may become more difficult to harvest (Fremstad 2006).

Several cultivars are considered valuable garden plants. It has also been widely used as a ‘green fertilizer’ due to its ability to support nitrogen fixation. Low-alkaloid cultivars have been developed for use as forage crops. Lupinus polyphyllus extracts (from low-alkaloid cultivars) are sold as herbal medicines. Lupine seeds (also from low-alkaloid cultivars) are cultivated for the edible seeds.

Management: Regulations (pertaining to the Great Lakes region)
There are no known regulations for this species.

Note: Check federal, state/provincial, and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.

Lupines usually require ecological disturbance to persist. Control is generally unnecessary in undisturbed sites.

There are no known biological control methods for this species.  Lupines may be toxic and populations often increase in grazed (pasture) systems.  Several native insects feed on lupines, but are considered insufficient for control (DiThomaso 2013).

Hand pulling, tillage, and digging are effective for controlling established plants, but the disturbance from these methods can promote new recruitment. The root system should be severed below the thickened crown. Mowing is not effective unless done frequently enough to prevent seed production. Fire is not an effective control, as this promotes germination (DiThomaso 2013). 

Several alternatives are available for chemical control – most are most effective when applied post-emergence and before flowering. 2,4-D and/or dicambia can be applied at temperatures less than 80 F.  Glyphospate is effective for spot treatment where reseeding (with natives) is planned as it will not injure seedlings. Chlorsulfuron and metsulfuron are also effective (DiThomaso 2013).

Note: Check state/provincial and local regulations for the most up-to-date information regarding permits for control methods. Follow all label instructions.

Remarks: L. polyphyllus may be confused with the Russel lupin Lupinus x regalis (L. arboreus x L. polyphyllus) which usually has slightly branched stems, one or several rather dense racemes with flowers in blue, purple, pink, white, yellowish and shades of orange. This taxon is a garden hybrid (or hybrid complex).

References (click for full reference list)

Author: Cao, L., and R. Sturtevant

Contributing Agencies:

Revision Date: 7/30/2019

Citation for this information:
Cao, L., and R. Sturtevant, 2024, Lupinus polyphyllus Lindl.: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI,, Revision Date: 7/30/2019, Access Date: 7/23/2024

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.