Global perspective

Lupins belong to a diverse genus of the legume family that is characterised by long flowering spikes with a range of different colours.

Some species have been bred to enhance their ornamental beauty, whilst others have been a traditional food in the Mediterranean region and the Andean highlands for thousands of years.

During the 20th Century they were domesticated for modern agriculture and have become an important protein source in many parts of the world.

Species - Origin & Natural Distribution

L. angustifolius
L. albus
L. luteus

L. mutabilis

Lupins (Lupinus L.) are members of the legume family (subfamily Papilioniodeae) containing both herbaceous annual and shrubby perennial types with attractive long racemes of flowers. Its rich diversity of species can be grouped into Mediterranean and East African ‘Old World’ species and American ‘New World’ species. In their natural state, lupins have adapted to the sub-artic climates of Alaska and Iceland, the arid climates of east Africa and Mexico, and the sub-tropical parts of South America and the USA.

Being a legume, lupins fix atmospheric nitrogen via a rhizobium-root nodule symbiosis, which together with a deep root system, explains their tolerance of infertile soils. Lupins are often a pioneering species of disturbed ground as was illustrated by the rapid colonisation by L. lepidus on the barren landscape created by the volcanic eruption of Mt St Helens (Washington State, USA) in 1980.

The common name for native Lupinus in North America is ‘lupine’, however ‘lupin’ is commonly used in Europe and Australia for both native and agricultural forms.

The potential for confusion is further illustrated with L. angustifolius. In the wild state it has blue flowers and is referred to as the ‘blue lupin’ in Europe. All agricultural cultivars of L. angustifolius in Australia have been bred to have white flowers, to distinguish them from their bitter undomesticated relatives. In the 1980s Australian farmers colloquially referred to them as ‘white lupins’ (which is the common name for L. albus in Europe). Scientists in Australia have encouraged the name ‘narrow-leafed lupin’ whilst industry often use ‘Australian Sweet Lupin’ for L. angustifolius.

Botanical variation amongst some Lupinus species

Species   Plant height (m) Flower colour Seed size (mg)
L. angustifolius Annual 0.2 - 1.5 Blue, occasionally pink, white in domesticated forms 30-240
L. albus Annual 0.4 - 2 White, pale pink, light blue, blue (var. graecus) 120-870
L. luteus Annual 0.4 - 1.5 Yellow, (white mutants occur) 50-150
L. mutabilis Annual 1 - 2 Purple, blue, pink, white 80-280
L. arboreus Perennial 1.5 – 2.5 Yellow 30-100
L. polyphyllus Perennial 1 - 1.5 Blue (hybrids of many other colours and bi-colours) 20-70


Gladstones, J.S. (1974) Lupins of the Mediterranean Region and Africa. Technical Bulletin No. 26. Western Australian Department of Agriculture, Western Australia

Planchuelo, A.M. (1999) Biodiversity of lupins in South America. In: Proceedings of the 8th International Lupin Conference, Asilomar, California p 320.

The geographical distribution of the major lupin species

Species Synonyms Common name Distribution
‘Old World’      
L. angustifolius L. L. linifolius Roth.,
L. varius L.,
L. reticulatus Desv.,
L. opsianthus Atab. & Maiss.
Narrow-leafed lupin, Blue lupin(e) Pan Mediterranean, particularly Iberian Peninsula
Widely cultivated in Australia
L. albus L. var albus L. albus L. subsp. albus
L. albus L. var. termis (Forsk.) Caruel
Albus lupin, White lupin, Lupino, Weisse Pan Mediterranean
L. luteus L.   Yellow lupin, Gelbe Lupine, Altramuz Amarillo West Iberia; pan-Mediterranean
L. hispanicus Boiss. & Reut. L. rothmaleri Klink.   Central, South, North-west Spain; Portugal; Greece; Turkey
L. micranthus Guss. L. hirsutus L.   Circum-Mediterranean
L. pilosus Murr. L. hirsutus L., L. varius L., L varius spp orientalis
L. anatolicus Swiec.
  North-east Mediterranean
L. cosentinii Guss. L. hirsutus Black, L. digitatus Lojac., L. pilosus ssp cosentinii, L. varius Sandplain lupin, Western Australian blue lupin West Mediterranean, Morocco, Australia naturalized.
L. digitatus Forsk. L. tassilicus Maire,
L. semiverticillatus Desr.
  Africa - Sahara
L. princei Harms     East Africa
L. palaestinus Boiss.     South-east Mediterranean
L. atlanticus Gladst.   Atlas lupin, Moroccan lupin South Morocco
‘New World’      
L. mutabilis Sweet.   Andean lupin, Pearl lupin, tarwi, chochos, tauri, chuchus, ccequla, ullush Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia (Andean region 2000 – 4000m)
L. polyphyllus Lindl.   Large-leafed lupin, Blue-pod lupin, Garden lupin, Washington lupin, Russell lupin* Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia (Andean region 2000 – 4000m)
L. texensis Hook.   Texas Blue Bonnet Southern USA
L. arboreus Sims   Yellow Bush lupin, Coastal Bush lupin, Tree lupin California coast, Western North America, naturalized elsewhere eg. southern England, New Zealand
L. nootkatensis Donn ex Sims   Nootka lupin Canada - British Columbia, Yukon Territory; Alaska, Iceland (naturalized)

Adapted from Clements J. et al (2005) "Genetic Resources, Chromosome Engineering, and Crop Improvement. Vol. 1, Grain Legumes" (Eds. R J Singh and P P Jauhar). CRC Press, Florida, USA

* Bred by George Russell by crossing the perennial Lupinus polyphyllus with other annual New World lupin species of different colours.

History of Use in Agriculture

Ancient History and 20th Century Domestication

Lupins have a history in agriculture and as a food that traces back more than 2000 years. They were eaten by the early Egyptian and pre-Incan civilisations and promoted by Roman agriculturalists for their role in soil fertility.

Lupins were moved from their Mediterranean origins to northern Europe by Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1781 to improve the poor soils of northern Germany. By the 1860s the ‘garden yellow lupin’ was widespread across the acid sandy soils of the Baltic coastal plain for forage and green manuring.

The early 20th century saw the first steps taken to turn the lupin from a wild or semi-domesticated form into a modern crop plant. This work was pioneered by German scientists who screened thousands of lupin plants. Their goal was to cultivate a ‘sweet’ variety. The bitterness (due to a mixture of alkaloids) is undesirable in animal feed and human food, and had prevented lupin’s widespread use for these purposes. The successful development of lupin varieties with the necessary ‘sweet gene’ paved the way for greater adoption of lupins in Europe and subsequently in Australia, where more sweet lupins are produced than anywhere else in the world.

PDF link – Ancient History and 20th Century Domestication (HOSTED ON LUPINS.ORG)

A History of Lupins in Australia

In the mid 19th century many species of lupins were introduced into Australia by the well known botanists Ferdinand Von Mueller (in Victoria) and Richard Schomburgk (in South Australia). By the turn of the century, State Departments of Agriculture were promoting their use as a fodder and green manure crop as the knowledge of the usefulness of leguminous crops was discovered. Bacterial cultures were made available to farmers once scientists discovered that successful nodulation under Australian conditions was not generally possible without inoculation.

The modern history of lupin development in Australia is linked inexorably to the career of Western Australian plant breeder Dr John Gladstones.

PDF link – A History of Lupins in Australia (HOSTED ON LUPINS.ORG)

Global Production & Trade


World lupin production increased from about 250,000 tonnes in 1980 to more than 2 million tonnes in 1999 with the vast majority of this increase coming from Australia. Prior to 1980 the former Soviet Union was the largest producer along with significant production in Poland and the former East Germany. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992, FAO lupin production figures are only reported from The Russian Federation with no data from Ukraine and Belarus.

The majority of Australian production is L. angustifolius (narrow-leafed lupin) and more than 80% is grown in Western Australia. L. albus (European white lupin) production in Australia peaked in 1996 prior to the outbreak of the disease anthracnose. Since 1996 most L. albus has been produced in New South Wales where anthracnose has limited distribution.

Until recently the majority of the lupin production in Eastern Europe was either L. luteus (yellow lupin) or L. albus. However, with the spread of anthracnose through the 1990s an increased proportion of L. angustifolius has been grown. French and Chilean production has increased dramatically in the past 10 years with L. albus being the dominant species. Small amounts of L. albus and L. luteus are grown in the Mediterranean countries, including Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and Egypt. Much of this L. albus is the large seeded bitter ‘lupini’ or ‘tremoco’ types.

All three of the above mentioned species have been produced in South Africa and small quantities of bitter L. mutabilis is still cultivated using traditional methods by the native peoples of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. More recently small areas of sweet L. albus have been grown in the USA and Canada.

Global production of lupin grain (average annual production - metric tons)

Country 1961-70 1971-80 1981-90 1991-95 1996-2000 2001-05
Argentina 350 230 80 100 120 130
Australia 1,410 57,550 593,620 1,271,450 1,560,410 984,800
Chile 0 2,070 14,390 30,690 33,240 45,370
Ecuador 2,800 720 930 1,290 1,330 1,450
Egypt 7,960 5,820 7,270 6,350 5,230 3,890
France 0 0 1,810 10,820 14,820 26,770
Germany 14,580 10,800 12,640 1,110 0 0
Greece 3,030 720 270 150 200 460
Hungary 4,110 2,960 5,790 880 1,220 320
Italy 25,530 8,310 4,740 4,560 4,680 4,790
Lebanon 0 0 0 1,140 1,150 1,070
Lithuania 0 0 0 670 1,340 2,400
Morocco 1,000 1,820 2,690 3,260 11,660 14,000
Palestine 0 0 0 0 10 0
Peru 1,330 2,580 3,510 3,510 7,220 9,540
Poland 155,900 71,780 99,860 74,200 31,760 15,090
Portugal 4,190 2,570 830 50 10 10
Russia 0 0 0 10,870 15,340 27,810
South Africa 42,830 6,600 7,100 6,600 11,470 10,230
Spain 6,350 2,090 1,700 4,630 12,010 9,160
Syria 20 750 280 100 120 40
USSR 449,000 312,500 265,800 116,200 0 0
TOTAL 720,390 489,870 1,023,310 1,548,630 1,713,340 1,157,330

Based on 2006 FAOSTAT data (last accessed April 2006)


Most production occurs in the winter/spring rain-fed parts of south-western Western Australia followed by South Australia, southern NSW and Victoria. Production in Western Australia and South Australia is dominated by L. angustifolius. There is a significant proportion of L. albus produced in New South Wales and Victoria.

Area sown to lupins in Australia (‘000 ha)

Year NSW Victoria South Australia Western Australia
1998-99 106 42 79 1,180
1999-00 135 35 73 1,104
2000-01 92 34 67 987
2001-02 106 33 80 920
2002-03 100 40 89 795
2003-04 69 28 86 667
2003-04 69 28 86 667
2004-05 45 25 63 530

Source: ABARE 2005 Report (www.abareconomics.com)

A small quantity of the large seeded L. albus ‘lupini bean’ is grown in South Australia and Tasmania.

South Africa

Currently the majority of the crop is planted in the Western zone with smaller areas in the Free State. Production in Kwa-Zulu Natal is expected to rise to 6,000 tonnes in the near future.


Chile has the fastest growing production of lupins in the world. Currently there is about 25,000 ha under cultivation (mainly locally bred L. albus ). Annual production is in the vicinity of 40,000 t. The realistic maximum potential for lupin production in Chile 100,000 ha with an average yield of 4t/ha (400,000 t).


By far the majority of global lupin production is utilised by stockfeed manufacturers for animal feed. Ruminants (cows and sheep) have been the biggest users followed by pigs and poultry. There is increasing utilisation in aquaculture in recent years.

Less than 4% of global production is currently consumed as human food. However, it has been estimated that around 500,000 tonnes of food containing lupin ingredients is consumed annually in the EU. This is mainly through low inclusion rates of lupin flour in wheat-based baked goods.

Most of Australia’s lupins are produced in Western Australia which has a relatively small domestic stockfeed market. Consequently the majority of WA’s lupin production is exported. The biggest export destinations have been the EU, Japan and Korea.

Average annual Australian lupin exports (metric tonnes)

Importing Country 1990-1995 2000-2003
South Korea 105,000 225,000
European Union 335,000 153,000
Japan 115,000 54,000

Lupins have traditionally been exported from Australia as whole grain but are likely to be increasingly sold as the higher protein kernel meal.

In the first instance lupins are valued in comparison to other protein commodities. However, protein is not the sole price determinant as lupin also provides a significant energy contribution to a stockfeed ration. Premiums for this energy value are particularly the case where lupins are used in ruminant feed.

Soybean meal dominates global stockfeed protein markets and is traded through a number of mediums including the Chicago Board of Trade Futures Market. Soybean meal prices can be used as a guide to the price of lupin.

Chicago Board of Trade: www.cbot.com

Non GM status

There are currently no genetically modified (GM) lupins using recombinant DNA technology grown commercially in the world.

Discussion Paper: “Tracking potential GM inputs to the stockfeed supply chain for feedlot beef”: www.daff.gov.au/corporate_docs/publications/pdf/innovation/scoping_study_gm_feedstuffs.pdf