Arctic Lupine – Lupinus arcticus

Alaska Wildflowers | Purple

Arctic Lupine

Lupinus arcticus S. Watson

Common Names

arctic lupine
alaska lupine
subarctic lupine




Lupinus arcticus ssp. arcticus
Lupinus arcticus ssp. subalpinus

Genus: Lupinus L. (lupine)
Family: Fabaceae/Leguminosae (Pea family)
Order: Fabales
Full Classification

Duration and Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb

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Entire plant is poisonous, especially the seeds.

Lupinus arcticus was used as a poison by the Inupiat.


The arctic lupine is a purple-flowering, herbaceous plant that commonly grows between 30-50 cm (12-20 in) tall. The long stems grow from a long taproot. It may have a single stem or many stems from a single plant. The leaves have 6-8 ovate, pointed leaflets. The leaves are palmate and attached by a long stem. Each stem has an inflorescence of many (up to 30) pealike, dark blue, or purple flowers occurring in a tall raceme. Flowers are typically wooly, especially the buds.

Toxins and Sparteine

Along with numerous other alkaloid toxins, a neurological toxin called Sparteine is found in the arctic lupine. Studies by Gregory Sharam and Roy Turkington showed that the concentration of sparteine in Lupinus arcticus is higher at night and lowest in the afternoon. In fact, the sparteine concentration could be nearly 5 times lower in the afternoon hours. The production of alkaloids is typically linked to photosynthesis and would usually have the highest concentrations in the day, like in other lupine species.

It is thought that the timing of this concentration developed as a defensive response to the grazing cycle of the snowshoe hare, the dominant herbivore in northern boreal forests.

Distribution and Habitat

In North America, Lupinus arcticus is native to Alaska, Northern Canada including British Columbia and Alberta, Washington state, and Oregon.

Arctic lupines are frequently found in white spruce boreal forests, subalpine ridges or mountainsides, alpine meadows, and along roadsides. It prefers well-drained soil and partial shade.

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RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae  (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
   SubkingdomViridiplantae  (green plants)
      InfrakingdomStreptophyta  (land plants)
            DivisionTracheophyta  (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
               SubdivisionSpermatophytina  (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
                           FamilyFabaceae  (peas, legumes)
                              GenusLupinus L. (lupine, lupins)
                                 SpeciesLupinus arcticus S. Watson (arctic lupine)
 Direct Children:
                                    SubspeciesLupinus arcticus ssp. arcticus S. Watson (arctic lupine)
                                    SubspeciesLupinus arcticus ssp. subalpinus (Piper & B.L. Rob.) D.B. Dunn (subalpine lupine)

References and Further Reading


Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg 11


Diurnal cycle of sparteine production in Lupinus arcticus, Sharam and Turkington, Canadian Journal of Botony

Fabaceae Lupinus arcticus S. Wats., Native American Ethnobotany Database


Lupinus arcticus  S. Watson, ITIS Database

Lupinus arcticus S. Watson arctic lupine, USDA Database

Identification and Information

Lupinus arcticus, Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

Arctic Lupine (Lupinus arcticus), PlantWatch –

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