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Streambank Lupine (Lupinus rivularis)

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Streambank Lupine (Lupinus rivularis)

Global: G2G4 Provincial: S1 COSEWIC: E (November 2002) BC List: Red

South Coast Occurrence Range

Distribution: Streambank lupine is found only on the west coast of North America, from southwestern British Columbia to northwestern California. In Canada it is currently known from only five locations: one near Sooke on southern Vancouver Island and the other four in the lower Fraser Valley in Delta, Surrey and along the Coquitlam and Pitt Rivers. Populations are small, with only 1 to 100 individuals, and consist mainly of seedlings with only a few mature plants, the result of mowing and other disturbances. The Sooke site consists of only a single plant but it has not been seen since 2003.
Description: This herbaceous perennial blooms from May to September with racemes of beautiful blue to lavender coloured, pea-like flowers. Stems reach 60 cm in height and, unlike many other species of lupine, lack basal leaves. The alternate leaves are divided into 6-9 leaflets, with the upper surface hairless and the underside bearing minute hairs. As a member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae), streambank lupine has characteristic peapod-like fruits, up to 5 cm long, that become blackened and hairy as they age. When fully mature, the pods split open explosively and toss the seeds up to 8 metres from the parent plant. Birds and rodents likely disperse the seeds.
Look’s Like?

There are many species of lupine native to British Columbia and telling them apart can be a challenge. Streambank lupine can be distinguished from other species in our area by a combination of its early flowering season, upright habit, delicate leaves and occurrence at low elevations. Seashore lupine (Lupinus littoralis) is the most likely to be mistaken for streambank lupine. The best way to tell these two species apart is by their habit and the hairs on the stems and undersides of the leaves. Seashore lupine is a low-lying, sprawling plant with obvious, long, silky hairs while streambank lupine is an upright plant with very short, nearly invisible hairs.

Habitat: In the South Coast region streambank lupine is found at low elevations on slough banks, along streams, creeks and riverbanks and in low secondary floodplains. While the specific habitat needs for this species are not known, it is generally found on moist, sandy or gravelly sites along low river banks, gravel dykes and railroad tracks. You will find this species where there is little groundcover and little competition from other plants. It can also grow under trees in dappled light.
Critical Features

  • Many lupine species with overlapping ranges hybridize in the wild. Streambank lupine is reported to hybridize with the invasive yellow bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus) and seashore lupine (Lupinus littoralis).

  • Specific ecological requirements are not known for this species. Populations in the Fraser Valley do not appear to be spreading along the corridors where they are found. Like other lupines, streambank lupine may require very specific soil conditions and microorganisms to be present before seeds can germinate.

Seasonal Life Cycle














Seedpod development and seed dispersal


  • Streambank lupine has likely lost much of its habitat in our region due to industrial development along the Fraser River. Dykes built along the river have altered hydrological conditions and may have left many of the original populations lacking the moisture levels they needed to survive.

  • Because the majority of populations occur on dykes or along railway tracks, this species is vulnerable to site maintenance activities, including mowing, clearing brush, spraying, track maintenance, grading and dumping.

  • Hybridization with the aggressive yellow bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus) can lead to “genetic swamping”. When the two species hybridize, the genes of the yellow bush lupine can overwhelm the genes of streambank lupine, producing hybrids with little trace of streambank lupine’s characteristics. As these hybrids reproduce and continue to spread they will likely compete with and may ultimately eradicate the streambank lupine.

  • With so few remaining populations and individual plants in BC, this species is especially vulnerable to plant harvesting, flower picking and seed collecting. Seedlings can also be destroyed by non-native slugs such as the European furrowed slug (Arion ater).

Conservation Objectives
  • Protection of all known locations through land stewardship mechanisms is critical if this species is to survive in British Columbia. The Streambank Lupine Recovery Team is working towards this with the goal of recovering populations in the future.

  • A targeted inventory should be conducted in the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island so we can determine the current extent of this species in BC.

  • Further research is needed so we can better understand the conservation needs of streambank lupine. In addition to factors that limit seed dispersal and spread, we need to learn more about the streambank lupine’s life history, population dynamics, substrate requirements and relationships with soil microorganisms.

Management Practices Check List

  • Ensure that habitat stewardship mechanisms are in place for this species at all sites in the Lower Mainland.

  • Signage is an important part of site management. Post signs identifying the site as home to a species-at-risk and indicate that mowing is restricted.

  • An educational brochure, Streambank Lupine: A Canadian Species in Peril, is available from the South Coast Conservation Program and should continue to be distributed to the public.

  • Erect barriers where needed to prevent accidental damage to plants. Barriers are required at Lower Mainland sites and are already in place in some locations.

  • When tackling heavy infestations of invasive species, removals should be done by hand by a knowledgeable person who can recognize the various life stages of streambank lupine. During removal activities, avoid trampling fragile seedlings and take extra care not to disturb the substrate as even small disturbances can create an opportunity for new infestations of invasive species.

  • Avoid construction, digging, dumping, mowing and other site maintenance activities.

  • Avoid damage to mature plants through spraying or other vegetation control measures, such as weed-eating. Even newly emerging seedlings can bear signs of damage from residual spray that was applied prior to seed germination.

  • In sites where mowing is required, limit this to the fall after the main period of seed production.

  • Prevent plant harvesting and seed removal.

Main References/Literature Cited

British Columbia Conservation Data Centre. 2008. BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer []. B.C. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, B.C. Accessed June, 2008.

Douglas, G.W., D.V. Meidinger, and J. Pojar (editors). 1999. Illustrated Flora of British Columbia. Volume 3: Dicotyledons (Diapensiaceae Through Onagraceae). B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands & Parks and B.C. Ministry of Forests. Victoria. 423p.

Jarvis, Cassy (Editor). 2008. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. []. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington. Accessed June 2008.

Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2006. E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Plants of British Columbia []. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Klinkenberg, Brian.  2005.  National Recovery Strategy for the Streambank Lupine (Lupinus rivularis) in Canada. BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Surrey.

Klinkenberg, Brian and Rose Klinkenberg. 2001. COSEWIC Status Report on the Riverbank Lupine (Lupinus rivularis) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Ottawa.

NatureServe. 2008. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life []. Version 7.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Accessed June, 2008.

SARA Public Registry Office. 2007. Species at Risk Public Registry []. Environment Canada, Government of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. Accessed June, 2008.

Image credits: All photographs by Brian Klinkenberg.

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