Pretty much everything I noticed in bloom this month was blooming in February already so I was having trouble picking a winner that really reached its peak in March. Well just because there wasn’t much competition doesn’t make this month’s winner any less stunning.
Silver bush lupine take a bow. Maybe it’s been the dry conditions but these are more impressive and showy than I can recall in my 4 seasons here in Ojai.
A semi-deciduous perennial, Silver bush lupine can reach over 5 feet tall and 7 feet wide. They are a member of the pea (Fabeaceae) family and love growing in dry, rocky nutrient-poor soil. Like other members of the pea family they are nitrogen fixers, essentially enriching the soil as it grows. The flower stalks are 2 feet long and covered in purple/white/yellow vertically symmetrical blossoms.
The lightly fragrant flowers are popular with numerous insects, especially bumblebees, and is a key food source for the larvae of the Mission blue butterfly.
The leaves are silver gray and soft to the touch with the classic lupine fingers, toxic to livestock.
Best place to see these beauties is the OVLC river bottom preserve. They love growing right in the rocky river bottom, the most amazing spot was off to your left as you walked north from the Old Baldwin trailhead, maybe about half a mile in. They should be gorgeous straight through April. I also recall some really nice specimens on the fire road above Matilija.
They are a little tough to grow in the home garden. The roots are extremely picky and hate being disturbed. Too much water or nutrients will lead to a quick death. If not watched carefully aphids and other nasty leaf munchers will make quick work of a baby lupine in a matter of weeks. While we have had tremendous success germinating them from seed, not a single specimen lived to adulthood. Even when you can get them established they generally don’t live more than 5 years, though you may get volunteer seedlings. Best just to enjoy these in their natural habitat.