New Hampshire’s Lupine Festival

Lupine festival banner

June heralds the blooming of lupines in New Hampshire, and we headed up to Sugar Hill for the 20th Annual Fields of Lupine Festival. The two-week-long festival features parades, open houses, markets, and concerts, but none of these events were scheduled on the day of our visit.

We first stopped at Polly’s Pancake Parlor for a delicious brunch. I, of course, marvelled at the red oak just outside the restaurant that had been planted by Lucy Hildreth and Wilfred Dexter on their wedding day, the 24th of May, 1899. Over a hundred years old, this oak still stands strong.

Red oak next to Polly's Pancake Parlor
Red oak next to Polly’s Pancake Parlor

A number of lupine plants were hiding just across the road from Polly’s.

Pond with lupines and irises
Pond with lupines and irises

We found a number of other wildflowers along with the lupine. This magnificent white horse is standing in a field of tall buttercup (Ranunculus acris).

Horse in a field of tall buttercup
Horse in a field of tall buttercup

Tall buttercup is toxic to grazing animals, so the horse has probably avoided it, allowing it to flourish in the meadow. The plant is native to Eurasia.

Yellow five-petaled flower of tall buttercup
Flower of tall buttercup

Yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus), another plant from across the ocean, prefers wet environments. Plenty of these plants could be found near the small pond.

Yellow iris flower
Yellow iris

Keeping with the theme, we saw another invasive yet beautiful flower among the lupine. Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) produces buds tinged with pink, and flowers with brilliant orange-red petals and yellow centers.

Orange hawkweed buds and flower
Orange hawkweed
Purple lupine flowers
Purple lupine

The lupine itself is an interesting story. Although none of the literature we received says so, the lupine flowers we saw are not native to the region (as per Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and the Flora Novae Angliae). The garden lupine (Lupinus polyphyllos) is actually native to the western United States. And the plants in New England may have been crossed with other lupines from across the ocean. Unlike the native sundial lupine, these plants do not serve as hosts for the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

All lupines belong to the legume family and, like many members of that family, fix nitrogen with the help of bacteria in their roots, enriching the soil. According to the Lupine Festival program book, the name “lupine” came from the Latin for “wolf,” in the erroneous belief that the plant robbed the soil of nutrients.

Yellow lupine plant in flower
Yellow lupine behind Harman’s Cheese Shop

We stopped at a very large field of lupine on Route 117 between Polly’s and Harman’s. Lupine as far as the eye could see.

Field of lupine with purple and pink flowers

We had seen purple, pink, and yellow. Here we found lupine with white flowers.

White lupine flowers
White lupine
Lupine leaf with drop of water in center.
The garden lupine leaf has many more leaflets than the native sundial lupine.

We found a couple other wildflowers here, both native. Robin’s plantain fleabane (Erigeron pulchellus), a member of the aster family, was in bloom.

Robin's plantain fleabane flowers
Robin’s plantain fleabane

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is not quite in flower yet. The flower buds were still developing.

Common milkweed leaves and flower buds
Common milkweed

Thanks to the experts at bugguide, I was also able to identify a few insects that I saw in these fields. I found a cockroach on one of the lupines! The tawny cockroach (Ectobius lapponicus) somehow made its way to New Hampshire from Europe. It prefers to live outdoors, close to the ground, although I found this one on a flower stalk.

Tawny cockroach on a lupine flower
Tawny cockroach

I also found a diurnal firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) on one of the plants. These fireflies do not light up and are active during the day.

Diurnal firefly
Diurnal firefly
Church with lupine in foreground
The field of lupine bordered a church.

We left the lupines behind and drove to the Pemigewasset Wilderness for a short walk. On our drive through the Sugar Hill area, we saw a number of signs saying “Stop the Northern Pass.” Apparently, large utilities are trying to run massive transmission lines through the state, fracturing natural communities and destroying scenic views. The Forest Society raised money to buy 295 acres of conservation land in a bid to stop the project.

After arriving at the Pemigewasset Wilderness Area, we took a bridge across the Pemigewasset River and walked along an old railroad bed. The river rushed along next to us and the air felt cool and damp. Before long, clouds of mosquitoes zeroed in.

We saw the lovely pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) in flower, my first time seeing this plant. It is the state wildflower of New Hampshire.

Pink lady's slipper
Pink lady’s slipper

We even saw a few of the rare white-flowered plants.

White-flowered pink lady's slipper
White-flowered pink lady’s slipper

Lady’s slipper is native to New Hampshire. So are these other wildflowers that we found growing along the trail: starflower (Lysimachia borealis), partridge-berry (Mitchella repens), and yellow blue-bead lily (Clintonia borealis).

Yellow blue-bead lily flower
Yellow blue-bead lily

And, finally, we found an eastern tent caterpillar on top of a wooden railing at the edge of the parking lot.

eastern tent caterpillar
eastern tent caterpillar

It was a wonderful day spent in the gardens and wilds of New Hampshire. Thanks to Carol for inviting us up.

A suggestion for the organizers of the lupine festival: please set aside some proceeds from the festival to create habitat for the native sundial lupine.

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