Fabaceae: Pea Family — Perennial & Shrubby Lupines
The pea family has 5-petaled flowers, consisting of a wide upper banner petal, two wing petals, plus two lower petals which are fused to form a boat-shaped keel. Many genera have flowers in heads or spikes, comprising many individual flowers. Examples are lupines and clovers. The seed pod is generally a “legume”. This is a long, flattish pod, swollen by the seeds, and splitting lengthwise along both the top and bottom.
Most lupines are easily recognized as such with their distinct clusters of flowers in spikes, sometimes short, sometimes quite tall. Leaves are typically palmately compound, with leaflets ranging from the very narrow to the comparatively broad. If in doubt, it is useful to note whether the flowers are in whorls around the stem. It can also be critical to look at the keel, to see the pattern of hairs. For example, this allows you to distinguish Silver Bush Lupine (Lupinus albifrons var. albifrons) from Summer Lupine (Lupinus formosus var. formosus). Some are ciliate on both the top and bottom of the keel; some have hairs only near the claw (base), others only near the tip. Photographs of some keels appear below.