The Great Smoky Mountains are renowned for the huge diversity of wildflowers. More than 1,400 species grow in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Of all the areas north of the tropics, only China rivals the southern Appalachian Mountains for plant diversity. Why so many varied wildflowers? Would you believe that glaciers are part of the reason behind the variety?
During the last ice age, much of North America was scoured by glaciers, and the Great Smoky Mountains became a refuge for many species of northern plants and animals that were disrupted from their homes. In addition, the Great Smoky Mountains offers a range in elevation from 875 to 6,643 feet which mimics the same changes you would experience driving from Georgia to Maine!
The Park hosts approximately 100 species of plants that are restricted to a single region of the park. Many of these species are only found in the southern Appalachian Mountains, but some like Rugel’s ragwort have been documented only inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Think wildflowers only bloom in the Spring? Here are the wildflowers you can expect to see in the Great Smoky Mountain year ’round:
1. January. Witch hazel‘s bright yellow flowers (pictured right) are usually still lingering from the previous year’s bloom.
2. February. Spicebush blooms. Trailing arbutus, daffodils, and periwinkle may bloom late in the month if the weather is mild.
3. March. Mild weather will see the blooming of sharp-lobed hepatica, bloodroot, spring-beauty, trout-lily, early meadowrue, and Jack-in-the-pulpit (pictured left).
4. April. Spring woodland wildflowers usually reach their peak of bloom around mid-April. The park’s annual wildflower pilgrimage is held during the last full week of the month. Call (865) 436-7318 for information. Species in bloom include: fringed phacelia, purple phacelia, white trillium, Dutchman’s britches, squirrel corn, wild geranium, yellow trillium, fire pink, violets, cut-leaved toothwort, large-flowered bellwort (pictured right), crested dwarf iris, wild ginger, wood anemone, little brown jugs, and the yellow mandarin.
5. May. Species in bloom in May include: may-apple, painted trillium, foamflower, brook lettuce, bleeding heart (pictured left), lady’s slippers, showy orchids, blue cohosh, columbine, wake robin, blue phlox, purple phacelia, wood betony, meadow-parsnip and umbrella leaf.
6. June. Species in bloom in June include: galax, fly poison, speckled wood lily, goat’s beard, wood sorrel, yellow star grass, sundrops, squawroot, mountain spiderwort, rattlesnake hawkweed, Indian pink (pictured right), woodland bluets, false hellebore and Canada mayflower.
7. July. Species in July in bloom include: Indian pipe, downy rattlesnake-plantain, wood tickseed, Michaux’s saxifrage, ramps, mountain mint, butterfly weed, Rugel’s ragwort, small purple-fringed orchid, thyme-leaved bluets and heal-all.
8. August. Species in bloom in August include: whorled wood aster, mountain bugbane, cardinal flower, Turk’s cap lily, mountain St. John’s wort, filmy angelica, monk’s hood, cranefly orchid, mountain krigia, starry campion, sweet Joe-Pyeweed.
9. September. Species in bloom in September include: pink turtlehead, New York ironweed (pictured left), jewelweed, yellow-fringed orchid, black-eyed susan, Canada goldenrod, skunk goldenrod and love-vine.
10. October. Species in bloom in October include: white wood aster, bee balm (pictured right), Maryland golden aster, wide-leaved sunflower, coneflower, heart-leaved aster, stoneroot and mountain gentian.
11. November. In November, nodding lady’s tresses, tall rattlesnake root and southern harebell (pictured below left) linger in bloom until the first frost.
Want to view wildflowers from your car? Try these…
Little River Road. This 17 mile route runs between Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Townsend “Y” near the Townsend entrance to the Park. the best viewing is in late march through April.
Clingmans Dome. This 7-mile route runs from Newfound Gap to near the summit of Clingmans Dome. The best viewing is in late April through the end of August.
Balsam Mountain & Heintooga Ridge Roads. These scenic high-elevation roads are off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The best viewing is during Summer.
Want to take a walk or hike to see wildflowers? TryDeep Creek Trail, Kanati Fork Trail, Little River Trail, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Porters Creek Trail or Chestnut Top Trail. Click here to view a video of Porter’s Creek Trail.
Wildflowers in the Smokies face a number of human-instigated threats including off-trail hiking and poaching. Plant poaching appears to be on the rise in the Smokies. Some commercial poachers remove hundreds of plants each trip and make several trips annually. In recent years, groups of poachers have been apprehended with well over 1,000 American ginseng roots.
Aside from ginseng, the most popular targets are orchids and trilliums (pictured left). Overzealous gardeners take a serious toll by removing showy wildflowers for transplanting back home and careless hikers trample delicate wildflowers when they leave established trails.
If you observe people digging plants in the Park, report the activity to the nearest ranger station or call (865)436-1230.
This blog is sponsored by ERA In The Smokies Realty and Rentals located at 207 Parkway in Gatlinburg. For more info. on a Gatlinburg Cabin for your Smoky Mountain Vacation or all the reasons to move to the Smokies, call 1-800-309-0277. ERA In The Smokies is a leader in chalet and Log Cabin Rentals and Real Estate Sales in the Gatlinburg area.