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Lupine (Lupinus spp.) is a leguminous agricultural crop.

Lupine blue (Lupinus angustifolius)
Lupine blue (Lupinus angustifolius)
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Economic importance

Lupine has long been cultivated mainly as a green fertilizer. Due to its high nitrogen-fixing capacity and large accumulation of organic matter in the soil, lupine is one of the best green manure. Its plants accumulate 180-200 kg/ha (200-400 kg/ha) of nitrogen, which corresponds to 36-40 t/ha of manure.

Table. Effect of lupine as a green fertilizer on crop yields, averaged over 13 years (Novozybkov experimental station All-Russian Institute of Fertilizers and Agrosoil Science, E.K. Alekseev)

Lupine green mass plowing (in the phase of blue beans) in the seeded fallow, t/ha
Yield of winter rye (grain), 100 kg/ha
Potatoes, 100 kg/ha
Buckwheat yield (grain), 100 kg/ha
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The root system of lupine is capable of penetrating deep into the soil and using phosphates that are difficult to dissolve. 

Yellow lupine can grow on poor sandy soils, for which it is often used for cultivation. Lupine can improve heavy soils and increase the efficiency of physiologically acidic mineral fertilizers.

White lupine seeds may contain up to 50% protein, but their use as forage has long been problematic because of the 1-2% bitter and poisonous alkaloids contained in the seeds and above-ground mass, such as lupinin, lupanin and spartein. Lupinin is removed by soaking the seeds in repeated changes of water for several days. However, many cultivated species of lupine are virtually free of this alkaloid as a result of plant selection and breeding.

Mature beans are usually an inexpensive source of protein. The chemical composition of lupine seeds consists of 14-50% protein (first among grain legumes, sometimes up to 61%), 5.4-8.8% fat, 29-50% carbohydrates and 3.8-5.1% minerals. The oil content in seeds varies greatly between varieties.

On the initiative of D.N. Pryanishnikov, lupine varieties without alkaloids or so-called sweet varieties were bred in the USSR. The alkaloid content in them was not more than 0,0025%. These varieties proved to be suitable for forage and even food purposes. Low-alkaloid varieties, with an alkaloid content of not more than 0.2%, were also bred. These varieties have proven to be more resistant than sweet varieties to diseases and pests and can also be used for fodder.

Lupine is relatively free of the antimetabolic and flatulence factors that other food legumes have.

Lupine green matter is now widely used for forage purposes. In addition, lupine seeds are used in the paint and soap industry, adhesives, plastics, artificial wool. Waste after protein extraction (mesga) is used for fodder. Lupine flour can be mixed with wheat flour to produce an acceptable pasta product.

Some forms are used for decorative purposes.

History of the crop

Important cultivated species of lupine originated in the Mediterranean basin area and include white lupine (L. albus), yellow lupine (L. luteus) and blue lupine (L. angustifolius). Egyptian lupine is sometimes identified as L. termis, but is now considered a variety of L. albus and is also widely cultivated. The genus Lupinus also has centers of origin in South and North America. L. mutabilis of South American Andean origin is cultivated and known as sweet lupine. L. pubescens is a wild form found in South America and may be the progenitor of sweet lupine.

Lupine is an ancient crop and has been cultivated for centuries in many European and African countries as a legume crop as well as a cover crop and green fertilizer. White lupine was cultivated 4-6 thousand years ago in the Mediterranean (Greece, Egypt, Rome). Seeds after soaking and cooking were used as food and feed for livestock.

In Russia lupine has been known since the early 19th century but it began to spread only since the late 19th century. The first researches on lupine use in Russia were carried out in 1881 by P.V. Budrin. D.N. Pryanishnikov was a proponent of lupine use as a green fertilizer. By the end of the twentieth century, its cultivated areas in Russia had grown considerably. Studies of lupine as a siderat were also carried out by S.P. Kulzhinsky, E.K. Alexeev.


Cultivation areas

At present, lupine is cultivated in the countries of Western Europe, the largest sown areas are in Germany and Poland.

In Russia, the main cultivation regions of the lupine are the western and central areas of the Non-Black Earth zone. It is also sown in Belarus, Polissia and the steppes of Ukraine, and in the Baltic countries.

By the end of XX century its areas of cultivation all over the world amounted to 1.5 mln ha, or 1% of all leguminous crops. Gross harvest of grain was 1.5 million tons at the yield of 1.0 t/ha.

In Russia there are no exact statistics on the area of lupine crops. It is assumed that at the end of XX century the area was about 200 thousand ha. Yields of green mass vary from 20 to 60 t/ha, and seeds, from 1 to 2 t/ha.


Lupine is a high-yielding crop. Yellow fodder lupine varieties can yield more than 40 tons of green mass per hectare. In the Bryansk region (collective farm “Lenin’s Way”), its yield reached 45 t/ha on an area of 570 ha, at the Novozybkovo experimental station of the All-Russian Institute of Fertilizers and Agrosoil Science – 70 t/ha.

New alkaloid-free varieties of grain lupine in the forest-steppe zone exceed pea varieties in yield by 0.8 t/ha, in terms of protein harvesting – by 2 times.

Botanical description

Lupine (Lupinus L.) is a herbaceous plant of the legume family. It has many annual and perennial forms.

Root system is taproot, capable of penetrating into the soil up to 2 m deep.

The stem is branched, erect, ribbed, pubescent. Depending on the species, the plant height varies from 30 to more than 150 cm.

Leaves are palmately compound, lobed, with 5-11 leaflets.

The inflorescence is an apical elongated brush, located on the main stem and side branches, has various forms, up to 50 cm in size.

Flowers depending on the species may have a variety of colors: white, yellow, blue, purple, sometimes mottled. Yellow and perennial lupines are cross-pollinated, white and narrow-leaved lupines are self-pollinated.

Pods are leathery, flattened, pubescent. Pods of large-seeded species (white lupine) are hairy, flattened, 7-15 cm long. They contain three or four seeds, which are oval and flat, resembling lima beans. The pods of the small-seeded species are 3 to 6 cm long. At maturity, with the exception of white lupine, they crack, the seeds are scattered, and the beanstalks are spirally curled.

Seeds also vary in shape and size. Perennial forms are small, annual ones are large. Coloring is white, gray, variegated, pink, in perennial forms also black or brown. Weight of one seed varies from 150 to 330 mg.

Varieties of lupine are widespread in Russia: yellow, white, narrow-leaved, perennial.

Lupine narrow-leaved

Lupine blue or narrow-leaved (Lupinus angustifolius L.) is an annual plant with a taproot penetrating deep into the soil up to 1.5-2 m with developed nodules. Plant height is 1-1.5 m.

Leaves have 5-9 narrow, linear leaflets.

Inflorescences are short, aggregated in an apical raceme, with varying colors (bluish-purple, lilac, less frequently pink, white). Self-pollination predominates.

Beans are pubescent, with 4-5 seeds each. Weight of 1000 beans is 150-200 g. Seeds are kidney-shaped, rounded, and have a marbled pattern.

The greatest growth of aboveground mass is noted during budding and flowering. In the Non-Black Soil Zone, the yield of green mass is 20-60 t/ha, and seeds are 4-5 t/ha (up to 2 t/ha). The highest content of protein in green mass reaches the phase of bean formation.

It is distinguished by its early maturity and cold-resistance.

Cultivated mainly in the Non-Black Soil Zone.


Lupine yellow

Lupine yellow (L. luteus L.) is an annual, well-foliated plant with elongated apical inflorescence. The plant height up to 1 m.

Flowers are bright yellow with a scent. Pollination is mostly cross-pollination. Seeds are pinkish with black speckles, slightly compressed from the sides. Weight of 1000 pieces 120-150 g. Depending on soil and climate conditions, the yield of green matter is 20-40 t/ha, seeds 1.0-3.0 t/ha, maximum yield up to 4.5 t/ha.

It is cultivated mainly in the south of the Non-Black Soil Zone and in the Central Black Soil Zone. It accounts for up to 80% of the total area sown with lupine for fodder.

White lupine

White lupine (L. albus L.) is an annual plant with a thick branched stem, 0.5-2 m high. The vegetation period is long. Self-pollination predominates.

Leaves are large, with 7-9 broad, obovate leaves.

The inflorescence is a small brush. Flowers are white or bluish-white. Pods large, swollen, wide, not splitting.

Seeds large, flattened, rounded quadrangular, white, light blue or pinkish. Number of 1,000 seeds weighs 240-450 g. Seeds contain up to 15% fat. It is one of the oldest crops in world agriculture. In Russia it is cultivated on small areas in the Central Black Earth zone and the Far East. In the Caucasus it is grown as a winter crop. Its green matter yield is 20-30 t/ha, while its seeds may reach 3-5 t/ha.

It is grown in damp areas of the Caucasian foothills, in the Central Black Earth zone and the Far East, as well as in the Polesie region of Ukraine and Belarus.

Lupinus perennial

Main article: Lupin multifoliate

Lupinus perennial or multifoliate (Lupinus polyphyllus Lindl.) is a perennial plant with a strong root system penetrating deep into the soil up to 3 m and with large leaves. Its inflorescences reach a length of 40-50 cm. Cross-pollination predominates. Flowers are blue, pink or white.

Leaves are large. Pods are small, elongated, covered with whitish hairs, blackened when mature. Weight of 1,000 seeds is 20-30 g. The seeds are oval, slightly flattened, mosaic-shaped. Coloration ranges from light to black.

Yield seeds 0.6-0.8 t/ha, green mass – 20-40 t/ha. 

Characterized by early maturity. Thanks to its cold hardiness, it may be cultivated for seeds and green manure fodder further north than annual varieties, as far north as the Vologda Region and the Komi Republic. Plowing green mass in June-July allows it to create favorable conditions for sowing winter crops. It is of the greatest interest as a green fertilizer for northern and northeastern regions of the country. Widespread in central and southern regions, and also in Belarus.

Due to its powerful root system and undemanding nature, it is used in anti-erosion measures: strengthening sands and ravines.

Biological features

It requires moisture, so it is cultivated mainly in areas with sufficient moisture. According to other data, lupine is drought-resistant.

Soils are undemanding, so it is often grown on nutrient-poor soils where it usually performs better than other legumes. However, well-drained, coarse-grained soils are preferred, as lupins are prone to root rot, often associated with cold, wet, fine-grained soils. Soils with shallow topsoil, heavily compacted subsoil, waterlogged and saline soils, and heavily calcareous soils are not recommended for this crop. It tolerates acidic soils, but a moderately acidic pH of 5-6 is optimal.

The heat requirements of annual lupins depend on the duration of vegetation. Seeds begin to germinate at 4-5°C.

Narrow-leaved lupine seeds begin to germinate at +5 °C. Sprouts survive frosts as low as -5 … -7°C (-2 … -4°C). It is less thermophilic than yellow and white lupines, and more demanding of moisture. It can grow in poor sandy, loamy and clay soils. 

Yellow lupine is more heat-loving than narrow-leaved lupine. Frosts under -2 … -5 °C may cause plant death. It can be grown on the same soils as narrow-leaved. It is better adapted to sandy soils, but is less tolerant of acidic soils.

White lupine is very thermophilic, heat- and drought-resistant in contrast to other varieties. It does not tolerate sub-zero temperatures. More demanding to fertility, but can also be cultivated on sandy soils.

Lupine perennial is a cold-resistant plant.

Lupine species of European origin are long day plants.


The vegetation period is from 120 to 180 days.

Vegetation phases:

  • sprouts;
  • 2 true leaves;
  • stemming;
  • budding;
  • blue beans;
  • shiny beans;
  • ripe beans.

Perennial lupine forms a rosette of leaves in the year of sowing, grows quickly in spring of the following year, giving 3-4 mowings in the south and 2 mowings in the north during the summer period. Ripens in 60-65 days. It can grow in one place for 8-10 years. The maximum yield is reached in the third year after sowing. The first cut can collect up to 30 t/ha of green mass.

Crop rotation

Lupine is not demanding to preceding crops. Cereal crops, buckwheat, cabbage crops such as mustard, rape are optimal.

Lupine for green fertilizer or green mass is spread in a seeded fallow. Sideral fallows are more effective than bare fallows, especially on light soils. According to data of Perm Agricultural Institute (Gurenev, 1974), plowing 31,3 t/ha of green mass of narrow-leaved lupine allowed to increase rye yield to 2,2 t/ha for 8 years on light soils of Pre-Urals, while the yield of bare fallow was 1,5 t/ha of grain.

Under spring cereal crops as a green fertilizer, stubble crops of lupine are used after early harvested crops such as rye, vetch-oat mixture. Lupine can also be used bilaterally – for fodder and green fertilizer. To do this, lupine is mowed for fodder during the flowering phase and later on the young plants are ploughed in autumn.

If lupine is cultivated for seed, it is sown after winter or row crops. On sandy soils, lupine is usually intercropped with rye and potatoes. For fodder the green mass is mowed in the phase of shiny beans and put for silage mostly with corn.

Lupine is a good precedent for all field crops because of its crop rotation, which lasts for 8 years.

Fertilizer system

Phosphorus and potassium fertilizers for lupine are applied when the content of these elements in the soil is less than 5-10 mg/100 g of soil. If these fertilizers are necessary, the rate of application is P30-45K60-90.

Lupine responds well to phosphorus-potassium fertilizers. It is able to absorb phosphates of hard-to-solve compounds such as phosphate and bone meal. Potassium fertilizers increase resistance to disease, increase yields, and accelerate ripening.

Nitrogen fertilizers are not usually applied under lupine, because instead of accumulating it, it begins to use it.

On poor sandy and heavy clay soils, especially when growing it for seed, it is recommended to add 25-30 tons/ha of lowland peat under autumn plowing.

Lupine also responds well to molybdenum and boron microfertilizers, which promote the activity of nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

To prevent the negative effect of lime fertilizers, it is advisable to apply magnesium-containing fertilizers (dolomite flour) under lupine.


Tillage consists of discing of stubble after harvesting of forecrop (in the presence of weeds in the field) and the usual autumn plowing to a depth of 25-27 cm. If necessary, deepening of the arable layer is carried out.

In early spring, harrowing and cultivation are carried out. Depending on the compaction of the soil instead of cultivation deep loosening or plowing with harrowing can be carried out.

Weed control is especially important because of its ability to suppress weeds which can reduce lupine yields by up to 30%.


Seed preparation

Before sowing in new places, lupine seeds are inoculated by treating them with bacterial preparations such as nitragyne or lupine rhizotorfin, which helps increase seed and green mass yields by 30-40%.

Sowing dates

Lupine is sown for seeds at the earliest possible time (usually after early cereals, taking into account possible frosts); sown for green mass, it is sown 2-3 weeks after the beginning of field work. According to the Izhevsk Agricultural Institute, even early-ripening varieties of lupine show a higher yield at an early sowing date.

Table. Effect of sowing dates on the yield of narrow-leaved lupine, averaged over 3 years (Izhevsk Agricultural Institute)

Sowing date
Later-ripening variety Blue 174, 100 kg/ha
Rapid-ripening variety Pink 399, 100 kg/ha
Rapid-ripening variety Pink 495, 100 kg/ha
Rapid-ripening variety Blue 335, 100 kg/ha
End of April
First decade of May
Second decade of May
Third decade of May

For green fertilizer, lupine can be sown under cover of early harvested crops, e.g., vetch-oat mixture, early varieties of spring cereals. If there is sufficient moisture, it can be sown in spring with winter crops.

Sowing methods

The method of sowing – row with a seeder set to the top sowing.

For white lupine, sometimes for all annual forms, for seeds also use the wide-row method with a row spacing of 45 cm.

Seeding rates

Seeding rate for narrow-leaved and yellow lupine is 1.2-1.4 million germinated seeds per hectare, for white lupine it is 0.6-0.8 million/ha (1.0-1.2 million/ha). Weight rates: narrow-leaved – 180-225 kg/ha, yellow – 150-175 kg/ha, white – 200-250 kg/ha.

In general, the optimum plant density is considered 30 plants/m2.

Seeding rate of perennial lupine is 1.5-2.0 million/ha of germinated seeds or 30-50 kg/ha.

With the wide-row method of sowing, the seeding rate is reduced by 20-40%. When cultivating for green fertilizer or green mass, the rate increases by 10-20%.

For seeding, grain seeders such as СЗ-3,6, СЗУ-3,6 and pneumatic СПУ-4, СПУ-6 can be used.

Sowing depth

The sowing depth is 3-5 cm.

Sharing crops

The Lupin Research Institute (Bryansk) proposed a technology for joint sowing of narrow-leaved lupine with spring cereal crops, such as oats, barley, and wheat.

Seeding rate for these crops is:

  • for green mass – 1.2 million/ha of lupine seeds and 2 million/ha of oat seeds;
  • for grain – 1.0 mln/ha of lupine seeds and 1.2-2.0 mln/ha of cereal seeds.

Crop care

Pre- or post-emergent harrowing of crops is not carried out, as fragile seedlings are easily damaged by the harrow. V.V. Kolomeychenko proposes to carry out preemergence harrowing with light tooth or reticulate harrows 6-7 days after sowing, postemergence harrowing in the phase of 3-4 leaves.

Lupine develops slowly up to the phase of budding, so it can be strongly suppressed by weeds.

In wide-row crops, 2-3 inter-row treatments are carried out.


Ripening of lupine beans and seeds is uneven. To reduce losses from shattering, it is recommended to start two-phase harvesting when 70-80% of the beans are browned and the seeds are hardened.

The single-phase method can be used for early and uniform ripening, reduced stems, and in southern regions. Single-phase harvesting begins when 90% of the beans are browned. If humidity is high, lupines are sufficiently dried in swaths, but bean cracking losses should be avoided.

If beans are unevenly ripened and ripening is delayed due to cold weather, remove leaves or dry the plants before harvesting. To do this, the crops are treated with defoliants or desiccants. Desiccation accelerates seed ripening, reduces seed moisture by 5-6%, facilitates harvesting, and low moisture contributes to better storage. Desiccation allows you to start a single-phase harvesting 10 to 15 days earlier.

Mowing and threshing is done by combine harvesters equipped with a ПЛК device.

When under-dried seeds are put into storage, the risk of mold development and loss of germination increases dramatically. The humidity of seeds before storing should not exceed 14%.

If lupine is used for winter fodder, it should be harvested with a forage harvester when beans are shiny.

Lupine is harvested for green fertilizer at the end of flowering and at the beginning of bean setting when the green mass is maximal. If it is supposed to be followed by winter crops, it is carried out not later than 2-3 weeks before sowing. For more convenient ploughing of green mass, it is mowed or rolled beforehand, and then disked. If the soil after plowing before sowing winter crops does not have time to settled, roll it.

In the case of stubble cultivation of lupine or after its mowing, tillage is carried out immediately after harvesting the predecessor in order to allow the accumulation of maximum green mass. Its embedding into the soil is carried out in late fall or early spring.

Cultivation peculiarities of perennial lupine

According to the recommendation of D.N. Pryanishnikov, perennial lupine may be cultivated for 8-10 years in the non-rotation field of crop rotation, receiving two mowing operations per year for green fertilizer: the mowed mass is taken out to a fallow field with subsequent fallowing under rye. It is also sown in rotation under barley and winter crops, after early harvest crops, or independently in the seeded fallow.

Sown under cover, it takes root till fall, forms a rosette of leaves, and overwinters in this condition. It starts growing in early spring, and by June it is ready for plowing (in case of sowing of winter crops).

The method of sowing is row crops. Seeding rate is 35-40 kg per hectare. Seeds are scarified to increase field germination and yield by 2 times. Seeding depth – 3-4 cm.

In the phase of flowering – setting beans plants are mowed and transported to the field for plowing. Sometimes it is necessary to sow half of a fallow field; after the beans grow, the lupine is mowed and transported to the other half for plowing. Yields of green mass in the second year of life reach 25-30 t/ha. The maximum yield in the eastern part of European Russia is reached after 4-5 years.

The perennial lupine is sown in spring by strip sowing (45×15 cm) without cover. Seeding rate is 8-10 kg/ha. Any crop may be a predecessor, but winter and row crops are preferred.

Harvesting begins no later than half of the beans are ripe, as they can easily crack. Under favorable conditions, the yield of perennial lupine seeds reaches 0.6-0.8 t/ha of seeds and 40 t/ha of green mass from the second year of life.


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