Nootka Lupine grows in meadows, along roadsides, mountain slopes and gravel bars. It grows 1-3' tall and has stout, hairy stems. The leaves are palmately compound and have 5-9 leaflets radiating from a common center and are dissimilar in size. The flowers are pea-like, blue to violet in color and grow in dense clusters at the top of the stem with younger flowers above, older below. The seed pods are brown and open explosively to release the seeds. The plant and especially the seed pods are poisonous.
Lupines thrive in nutrient-poor areas, so we find them growing in places newly uncovered by retreating glaciers, in disturbed areas and sometimes where there seems to be little soil. What helps lupines survive in marginal habitat is their harboring of nitrogen fixing bacteria in nodules on their roots. These bacteria can pull nitrogen out of the air and incorporate it into organic compounds that enrich the soil and nurture the lupines.