Ideally, every plant in a botanical garden should be identified and named. Sometimes, for any of a number of reasons, the ideal is not reached.
This lupine is a good example. Wild collected in Patagonia in the early 1980s, it is labelled (and in our database) as Lupinus sp. aff. mutabilis. The original assessment of the plant was that it resembled Lupinus mutabilis, but the collector was not willing to affirm its identity one hundred percent.
For twenty-three years now, this plant has quite happily grown in the South American section of the Alpine Garden. In that time, none of the staff or researchers have been able to decipher its true identity due to a gap in our library. Generally we’d need either a comprehensive guide to either the plants of Chile and / or Argentina (a flora) in our library, or, alternatively, a scientific work that describes the Lupinus of the region or the world (a monograph). Without a step-by-step key to identify plants in the genus Lupinus of that region, any moniker we attach to the plant is scientifically known as a “guess”–and makes the plant even less valuable to researchers. In the case of using plants for research, it is better to be uncertain than to be wrong. So, for the time being, this plant remains a beautiful mystery.