Lupine: purple meadows' majesty in Seattle area
In swales of purple-blue, lupine are the summer beauty queen of meadows at Discovery Park and throughout the state.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Learn more about lupineTry the Hidden Valley trail, located at Discovery Park, west of the Loop Trail. For a map, go online:
For more information on lupines and other Washington native plants, investigate the Burke Museum Herbariam's full-color online plant directory: http://biology.burke.washington.edu/herbarium/imagecollection.php
Northwest Travel Guides
In swales of purple-blue, lupine is the summer beauty queen of this meadow at Discovery Park.
Soft swirls of deer beds amid crushed ferns and tall grasses between the plants show people aren't the only ones who revel in this vast expanse of flowers at Discovery Park, one of the largest and best stands of native lupine in the Seattle area.
On a recent morning, summer rain spangled the lupines' leaves, the water gathering in crystalline lenses that caught the light like a magnifying glass. The flowers' stalks rose in spires, a sea of purple inviting a long, deep drink of appreciation.
Lupinus polyphyllus, or large-leaved lupine, is just one of more than 20 varieties that grace Washington state from its coast to its subalpine meadows, and arid lands east of the mountains. It's also one of the showiest varieties, standing a stately 3 to 4 feet tall. It's a wildflower pretty enough for an ornamental garden.
The lupines' regal beauty belies a workhorse nature. Lupine is one of the first plants to take root in disturbed ground, and it plays a crucial role, enabling other plants to thrive by adding nitrogen to the soil.
It was a lupine that first braved the pumice plain at Mount St. Helens after the volcano's eruption, paving the way for other plants to come. "They fundamentally transform the environments they colonize by improving the soil," said David Giblin, collections manager of the herbarium at the Burke Museum.
The lupine meadow at Discovery Park is a bonus from the upgrade of the West Point Treatment plant by King County.
The county seeded the meadow with wildflowers as part of an extensive landscape plan utilizing native species to conceal the treatment plant. Completed with citizen advice in 1996, the landscaping has thrived along the north beach trail and uplands ever since. The result is a destination treat each June.
One of the best-kept secrets in Seattle, the pool of purple lies along a little-used section of trail at the park leading to sweeping views of Puget Sound and the Olympics.
Not just another pretty face, lupine blossoms are cleverly engineered to entice their champion pollinator, the native bumblebee, Giblin notes.
The blossoms include an ingenious spring-loaded mechanism, triggered when the bee's weight opens the flower. That trips a dusting of saffron-colored pollen popped loose from 15 tiny anthers. The bee combs the pollen into baskets on its legs, and for its reward, reaches into the nectarie of the flower with a long tongue for a sip before buzzing off to the next bloom.
Once the flower is pollinated, it remains sprung open and an interior part of the flower, called the keel, remains exposed and highly visible. Like a "no vacancy" sign, it notifies the next customer to take its business elsewhere — farther up the stalk, at flowers still closed, and not yet pollinated.
It looks so pastoral in the meadow, Giblin noted, but actually, a highly efficient transaction between flower and bee is under way, with not a motion wasted on an already spent flower.
"They are on task," Giblin said of the bumblebees, diving into the lupines' purple splendor.
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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