Breathtaking carpets of pastel hues made an eye-catching view as we entered the MacKenzie district. Russell lupins lined road edges and many paddocks had large areas covered with this beautiful flower.
A warm breeze carried the sweet fragrance the lupins emanated. It was paradise.
The Russell lupins (Lupinus polyphyllus) are a perennial herb originally from North America. During November to January the Mackenzie district attracts flocks of tourists armed with cameras ready to capture the iconic high country flowers.
Back in 1949 David Scott helped his mother Connie Scott scattered lupin seeds along the roadside. Connie Scott of Godley Peaks Station purchased lupin seeds from a local stock agent with the intention of making the region more attractive.
The explosive seedpods allowed lupins to grow and spread quickly. Lupin seeds are long-lived and able to tolerate wind, poor soil, warm or cold temperatures and grazing.
Environmentalists and ecologists believe Russell lupins are an environmental weed as threatening as broom and gorse. Lupins can prevent native plants establishing and are known to alter the shape of riverbeds.
Not only do clumps of lupins cause sand and gravel build-ups resulting in erosion and flooding, they’re also responsible for the prevention of some river birds from nesting.
New Zealand river birds such as kaki, wrybill, black-billed gulls, back-fronted terns and banded dotterals nest in open riverbeds. The openness allows them to see predators such as cats, stoats, ferrets and hedgehogs.
Russell lupins provide protection and an environment to hide for such predators.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Merino farmers in the Mackenzie region have seen value in cultivating Russell lupins. AgResearch scientist David Scott believes lupins are an exciting pasture plant. Russell lupins are long lived and nutritious sheep feed that requires little fertilizer.
Lupins are high in protein, nitrogen, sulphur and alkaloids. This combination improves animal performance such as an increase in wool and body weight increases quickly. Plus they provide cover during lambing.
Although there are two sides to the MacKenzie lupins, I’ve loved being amongst them.
It’s something I’ve wanted to see for a long, long time and they were definitely worth the wait.