7 December 2017

Captivated by Lupins

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.


  1. The lupins look so pretty, and something we are yet to experience. But we are heading "down south" very soon so hopefully they will still be in flower.
    Robin and Jenny, Romany Rambler

  2. I've got my fingers crossed that they'll still be flowering when get there - you'll love it/them.

  3. Beautiful, Katrina. I can see why you were so looking forward to getting down to see and photograph them. Shame they are viewed as a weed by many. Thanks for all the info about their history and the different perceptions of them.

    1. Thanks Joy. Yes, they're a photographers dream. Something I've been waiting to see for sooooo long.

  4. Unfortunately, David Scott passed from this world last year. Until that day he worked tirelessly around the Lake Tekapo community on garden and beautification projects. As a soil scientist he identified out from the rest, low alcoloid plants that are more favored by stock to eat, and through various methods was in the process of increasing these plant numbers for greater use in the future for farmers. A great and very knowledgable man. His work is continuing I believe.

  5. Shame those farmers didn’t see the natural beauty of the high country those lupins will kill all the natives


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