Lupines are right on time for festival in Franconia, Sugar Hill

Special to the Union Leader
June 07. 2018 6:42PM
Mount Lafayette (left) and Cannon Mountain rise beyond the lupines growing in the garden of The Frost Place, poet Robert Frost's former home in Franconia. (MEGHAN MCCARTHY MCPHAUL)

A little rain, a bit of sunshine, and — right on cue — the lupines have popped in the fields around Sugar Hill and Franconia, just in time for the 25th annual Celebration of Lupine.

What started in 1994 as a modest endeavor to attract visitors to the area during what had been the traditionally quiet pre-summer weeks has morphed into a month-long celebration of the spiky flowers that transform the landscape here into a sea of purple and pink — the area’s “other foliage season.” And all indications are that the lupines are at peak bloom now.

“There are plenty around,” said Brenda Aldrich, owner of Harman’s Cheese & Country Store in Sugar Hill, who has long helped organize the celebration. “They’re a little bit shorter this year. Between the heat, then the cold, they’ve had some extra stress.”

The flowers may be shorter — although to the uninitiated it’s hard to tell — but their colors are just as vibrant as always. Already, cars are pulled over along the edges of back roads to take in the colorful views, and tripod-toting photographers crouch in fields looking for just the right angle for that perfect lupine shot.

It’s a far cry from the celebration’s earliest days, but has grown through a grassroots effort by a handful of local business owners.

At the popular Polly’s Pancake Parlor, owner Kathie Cote said business has increased more than 100 percent in the month of June since the inception of the Celebration of Lupine — from serving 4,300 customers in June 1993 to more than 11,000 customers last June.

“This next week we go from serving around 200 people on the weekdays to close to 400 on the weekdays,” Cote said. “Of course, it is a fun mix of lupine peepers and motorcycle groups for Bike Week.”

The Celebration of Lupine officially began June 2, but this weekend marks the annual open-air market in Sugar Hill, with more than 60 vendors, plus food trucks, free photography workshops, live music and artisan demonstrations.

“This is really a local event. Our vendors are local, our programs are local. It’s a great time to see what New Hampshire offers,” Aldrich said.

She noted there’s also a bit of a French Canada influx to this year’s market, with Dueling Chefs Smoke N Grill of Ossipee selling poutine from their food truck and the Strathspey and Reel Society of New Hampshire playing a mix of New England, Scottish, and Quebecois dance tunes Saturday afternoon.

They’re from away

All of this is in celebration of a flower that is not native to the area, but has been here long enough to claim local status. There are some 75 varieties of lupine growing in North America, and the only one native to New Hampshire is the wild lupine, also called sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis). This species grows mainly in the acidic, sandy soils of the pine barrens in Concord and is the sole food source of the caterpillar of the state’s official butterfly, the Karner Blue.

The lupines growing through the fields farther north are a garden variety (Lupinus polyphyllus), an interloper from the western U.S. found in wildflower seed mixes — or escaped, perhaps, from gardens.

“They weren’t planted here, but took over the dairy fields as they stopped being hayed,” Aldrich said, adding that each year she finds lupines growing in places they haven’t been before and other areas where previous lupine blooms have faded or disappeared.

Technically the garden variety lupines, which are also the ones commuters will notice planted in the median along Interstate 93 and elsewhere, are considered an invasive species, according to Heidi Holman, a biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re detrimental.

“We haven’t seen any issue with it taking over native areas or harming wildlife,” Holman said.

Rather, she said, these lupines provide blooms to foster bees and other pollinators, seeds that are a good source of nutrition for wildlife from woodchucks to deer, and a high nitrogen level that is generally beneficial to soils.

Native or not, the lupines here are widespread, and thousands of visitors come each June to see the fields of purple, with a bit of pink and white mixed in for good measure. Celebration of Lupine events run trough this weekend and next.

For a full schedule of events, visit


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