Key to Lupinus discussion

This may not be exactly what you were thinking when you wrote this, but I like this idea a lot. It would be very useful in key creation to see how everyone interprets the different terms. I might recommend trying this in projects on a regional basis. You could copy the key into a journal post and add some initial comments. Then, anyone who wanted the use the key could add comments at points that are difficult to understand. It would act sort of like a crowdsourcing effort to develop easy to use keys. If I find some time to do so, I might even try to test it by incorporating the idea into my Euphorbia project:


As to your question about Lupinus, I wish I could help, but I rarely encounter the genus. I would recommend searching for species in iNat by setting the geographic location that the key includes. Then, search a couple species with lobed keels and compare them with a couple species that aren’t supposed to have lobed keels. If that is complicated by too many misidentifications, I would look for photos of specimens on SEINet if you’re in North America or GBIF if you’re somewhere else. Be sure to only include specimens with photos (there is a checkbox for each site). You can also use Google Images, but unless you are experienced in discounting misidentifications, I wouldn’t recommend it. You often get misidentified specimens too, but the rate is much lower. If you can find some other sources that are generally pretty trustworthy (sometimes even field guides), you could use those too. The key is to find examples with and without the lobed keel to find out exactly what “lobed keel” means.


This page offers some identification guidance for lupines, including a photo with a labeled keel lobe:
I’m not sure how accurate it is; I don’t know much about legume ID myself.

A well-written key will often have a preface explaining how to assess different character-states, particularly those unique to the taxon being keyed (genus or whatever). Sometimes those notes can be found by going “up” a few taxonomic levels (say, family or subfamily). Unfortunately, most keys are not well-written.


I have seen that web page, but I was still unclear about the lobes. I’m sort of clear, but an un-lobed photo would be nice. For the Jepson, they expect you have the printed copy for the glossary terms with drawings, I think. The Jepson eFlora has the keys, but not everything on the front of the book.

We can only link to a key with Jepson, for example. In their copyright for the Jepson eFlora, they say you can’t quote or copy and paste it, only provide the URL. So, don’t anger them, lol. On this site, the vast majority of people don’t take a macro shot of the keel… but they should if they want real help to identify these… as well as other things like banner back, wings, seeds, etc. as applicable.

I don’t know anyone who’s satisfied with the Jepson lupine key. It’s no big fault of the authors – just an extremely subtle group prone to exceptions. I haven’t encountered the couplet about keel lobes, as far as I can remember, so I’m no help there. Be sure to consult the Munz treatment as well, some people prefer that key.


@leafybye good to know and thanks for the info. A URL should still work just fine. Honestly, if I try this, I will be most interested in using the technique for creating my own keys. If I can get more than one or two people to actually use the key on plants, I might be able to pinpoint common stumbling-blocks people encounter when interpreting the morphology. I might be able to adapt to that by either rewording or adding better clarifying information in the beginning. The reason I think this is useful is that whenever I just get into a genus and try to key from a photo, I generally end up stumbling into comparing two species that aren’t very similar at all, but key similarly. It’s possible that some of these main points of difficulty could be mitigated by better key writing, but that’s hard to do if the interpretation is all too obvious to the key writer.

On the other hand, if I could get a sense of how people were using other keys, I might be able to use that information to make more user-friendly keys. It’s an interesting idea anyway.

1 Like

Ideas are worth trying! I look forward to hearing how it goes.

OK, I’ll try…
Here are a couple of my observations, the first without a lobed keel, and the second (probably) with a lobed keel:

If you have access to the Flora of the Pacific Northwest they have a very useful feature of illustrating the features they are discussing in the key. I wish more floras would do this! I don’t see any couplets that specifically contrast lobed to unloved keels, but they show several drawings of keels in various shapes. If the next link works it should go to previews of the Lupinus pages:

1 Like

Thanks! I’ve photographed lots of L. nanus but I never thought about if the keel had a lobe or not because I’m not sure the key needs to know. You do need to know if it has a tooth or not. I need to learn the tooth thing, but I guess when the keel doesn’t have a tooth, the margin is uniformly straight, or so.

I will try to find that Flora or look at the preview.

Learning to identify things by the key, on my own with no expert around can be challenging, but once I’ve learned a species, I don’t need the key so much anymore. To really learn species of a Genus, it seems like you need to look at a lot of individuals from all over. So, I have subscribed to all Lupinus observations in California.

I made a journal post because I’ve seen a lot of mix up between L. nanus and L. bicolor which is nothing new to iNaturalist, just a historically difficult identification at first glance.

I use this, mostly not bad once you get used to it:

Yeah, the keys for lupines I try to ID locally never ask about whether the keel is lobed, so I never thought to specifically look at that character previously.

Thanks again for reminding me about this page. It is pretty excellent, although incomplete. I think I understand lobed vs. not now. If I described it in words I would say that the upper margin makes a swooping line when it’s unlobed all the way to the claw, while when it’s lobed it suddenly drops and makes the part that sticks out from the general upper margin line. If that makes sense.

I checked out the old Jepson Manual (again) and the botanical drawings are helpful.

Yes, they are variable, so that’s why we need to focus on tiny details of flower parts, cotyledons, and fruit, I suppose.

That’s a great idea to look at Munz. I’m going to grab a copy from the library. I know the botanical drawings are supposed to be good in that Flora.

Thanks for the suggestion.

1 Like

I understand. I was hoping more people would post photos of the keel, banner, wings, and cotyledons. I was thinking of starting a contest where I would give a forensic scale (which is just a fancy ruler) to the first five people who could submit a complete set of photos that follow the Jepson key for any particular variety or species.

I think I’ve covered Lupinus nanus and L. bicolor pretty well already.

1 Like

Munz has a good variation, and it is good to get another look at how to key these. I picked up Munz at the library, fortunately. Thanks.

Hey, going back to keys and characters, personally I’ve learned more when I have the key in the field, and try to use it there, rather than from photos or notes afterward. However, good notes would work. One way to approach the key to Lupinus is to have a form, or notes describing all the characters before ever looking at the key. Of course, you would need to know which characters are diagnostic for that key. In other words, go in blind, gather all information, then use the key on your notes.

1 Like

I never thought of doing a key-step photo series, but that sounds like fun.

1 Like

Just stumbled across this photo while looking for something else. If I were describing a keel as lobed, this is probably what I would have in mind. But so far as I have found, none of the keys or descriptions pertaining to this species refer to it as having a lobed keel, so I may be totally wrong.

1 Like

I think that is an example! Thanks!

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.