Alaska wildflowers are a delight and inspiration to many, short-lived though they might be.  A frequent object in my camera lens during the month of June is the tall blue flower spike with palmate foliage known as Nootka Lupine, Lupinus nootkatensis.  The print “June Means Lupines!” captures the brilliant blue color and stately form of this common meadow dweller, with variations on the theme shown in “Luminous Lupine,” “Purple Fire” and the image titled “Secret Garden,” which shows one of the cultivated colors.  There is an abundance of lupine nearby thanks to their hardy nature and love of well draining soil as is found in our sandy meadow next to the river.  They are perennial plants and nitrogen fixers in the pea family, the most obvious indicator of that being the hairy pea-like seed pods that appear after the flowers are gone.  Besides photographers, lupines also attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Lupine love recently deglaciated areas, gravel bars, and well drained meadows from sea level to subalpine, and so are found all over Alaska.  The US Forest Service publishes a great trailside guide to wildflowers in the national forests, color coded for easy reference.  Look in the blue section for lupines.

Speaking of blue, I’ve learned colors are categorized by their hue, saturation or intensity, tone or brightness, tints (color mixed with white) and shades (color mixed with black).  There are easily over 200 kinds of blue!  The periwinkle name comes from a flower, and Savoy blue is named for the House of Savoy, a ruling dynasty in Italy in power until the Italian republic was formed in 1946.  The blues showing up in the meadows around Gustavus start in the purple end of the spectrum and go to deep blue like ultramarine or sapphire, then lighter blue like periwinkle, and finally a light blue that reminds me of clouds.  Maybe that one is called powder blue or sky blue.  I am delighted by the many shades of blue on any one lupine plant.

The plant has a pleasing shape, bushy and often as tall as my waist: one bloom per stalk, with many stalks on each plant.  I have a sweet lupine memory from our early days at the old cabin.  One section of the meadow near there had a thick carpet of lupine growing as the understory beneath a group of six cottonwood trees, and when lupine time came around I felt the abundance of color and beauty strike me almost physically.  Wading through the blue flowers while the cottonwood leaves rustled overhead transported me to a blissfully peaceful state of mind.  “This is my Giverny,” I thought then.  Over the years, that patch of lupine went away; thankfully it’s coming up now in plenty of other places around the property.  Maybe as the cottonwood trees grew, they crowded out the lupine and it went looking for more light and water.  It’s a good argument for keeping the open meadow open as long as we can: always making sure there’s room for the lupine.

As a final note in the words of Georgia O’Keefe, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”  Amen.

Alaska wildflower notecards and prints by Gustavus Alaska artist Lillian Ruedrich.  Click here to purchase 2025 calendars, 5X7 blank notecards, or 11X14 matted giclee prints.