A Glare Beyond Ravages of Time: Lupine Arcticus

Lupinus arcticus is a species of flowering plant in the legume family known by the common names Arctic lupine or subalpine lupine. It is native to northwestern North America, where it occurs from Oregon north to Alaska and east to Nunavut. It is a common wildflower in British Columbia.This is a perennial herb growing from a taproot and producing an erect stem up to 50 centimeters tall. The dark green, hairy leaves are borne upon rough, hairy petioles up to 17 centimeters long. The leaves are palmately compound, made up of 3 to 9 leaflets each measuring up to 6 centimeters long. The inflorescence is a raceme up to 15 centimeters long bearing up to 30 flowers. The flowers are usually blue, sometimes purple, and occasionally white. The banners of the pealike flowers may be tinged with pink. The fruit is a hairy, greenish to blackish legume pod 2 or 3 centimeters long. It contains up to 10 white-speckled black seeds each about half a centimeter long. The plant may hybridize with other Lupine species when they grow together.

Lupinus arcticus - Wikipedia

This plant grows in several types of habitat, including fields of sedge and moss, alpine regions, and the hills of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It grows on tundra and in moist and wet substrates. This species has been the topic of some biological research. In 1967 it caused a stir when the seeds of this species were discovered in ancient lemming burrows dating back to the Pleistocene; the seeds were germinated and they produced plants, causing them to be declared the oldest viable seeds ever discovered. In 2009 a follow-up article detailed how radiocarbon dating was used to determine that the seeds were, in fact, just a few years old at the time of their discovery, and had probably fallen into the burrows not long before.

The plant contains a neurotoxin called sparteine, possibly as a deterrent to herbivores such as the snowshoe hare. The levels of sparteine in the leaves cycle, becoming higher at night, when herbivory is more likely to occur. In addition to the hare, species of ground squirrel have been known to feed on the plant.In Science, they described how these burrows, found at Miller Creek within the Yukon territory of western Canada, had been buried deep within frozen silt since the Pleistocene. That made them over 10,000 years old. As well as rodent nests, faecal pellets and seeds, they also contained an ancient lemming skull, further confirming their old age.Crucially, the seeds remained viable, as the scientists managed to germinate and cultivate normal healthy Arctic lupine (Lupinus arcticus) plants from them.”These were considered to be the oldest viable seeds to have ever grown,” says Grant Zazula, a scientist working for the Yukon Palaeontology Program run by the Government of Yukon, based in Whitehorse, Canada. They were found in ancient frozen lemming burrows and the radiocarbon dating did confirm that the lemming skull found alongside the seeds was from the Pleistocene. That validated the original researchers’ claim that they had collected Pleistocene samples from deep within the permafrost.But without their knowledge, the seeds must have fallen into the burrows just years before they were collected. The burrows had likely been exposed by mining activity in the region.More than four decades ago, Canadian scientists published details in one of the world’s foremost scientific journals of how they discovered two dozen seeds of an Arctic lupine plant within ancient lemming burrows and finally these plants survived and thrived as a few of the challengers to the tides and cleansing of that being called time.