Lupines and butterflies; a failed project and lessons learned

The summer after my 1st year of college I did a somewhat misguided ecology project related to the Karner Blue Butterfly (Plebejus melissa samuelis). The butterfly larvae only feed on wild lupines (Lupinus perennis). As lupines are early successional plants, as the Northeast transitions back into the forested lands it was before European colonization, the lupine populations are also shrinking. With those populations, the butterflies are dying out. When the butterfly was listed in 1992, 99% percent of its population was already gone. It used to be found from Minnesota to Maine, which included my home state of Vermont. Now the butterfly can only be found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, and Ohio, although reintroductions have occurred in 3 other locations. I did not do as much research about the butterfly as I should have in the planning stage of my project but we will get to that later and hopefully, this can serve as a lesson to you as well in planning future projects.


Blue lupines (Lupinus perennis) are now endangered in the state of Vermont according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They have a taproot that helps to stabilize areas to prevent erosion. Since they serve as host plants and were easy to find the seeds for I bought 16,000 seeds on Amazon. I took the seeds and made them into what are called seed bombs. Seed bombs were created during the Guerrilla gardening movement, people would use them to plant flowers in empty lots that they could not otherwise access. It is basically a ball of mud, seeds, and fertilizer that you are able to throw. Here is more information on seed bombs. It is important to keep in mind what plants are native and which plants are not. I used two seeds per seed bombs because cross-pollinating lupines plants produce more seeds than those who self-pollinate. The fertilizer used was made from natural plant products, because it doesn’t raise nitrogen levels if washed in a waterway.

seed bombs
Some of my many seed bombs

The Karner Blue butterfly is only an inch wide and has very limited dispersal, an average of 1000 feet. IF I had done more research I would have figured out that planting lupines where the butterfly does not exist, literally serves no benefit to it. At the time since Vermont is in the historical range, I thought that one of the butterflies would make its way to my lupines. This project lacked practicality and enough background research. I also had no taken outbreeding depression into account when I bought random seeds on Amazon. Outbreeding depression occurs when you breed two populations that wouldn’t have breed together in the past together. The result is lower genetic diversity in the species.