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Wildflowers Don't Care Where They Grow
by Jerry Ison

I gotta admit, I stole that title from a Dolly Parton song of the same name. One of my many, many favorite Dolly songs. As a matter of fact, every time I see wildflowers, I think of her. They have so much in common. They both thrive in the Smoky Mountains, are very attractive and right now, are bustin' out all over!

The Great Smoky Mountains are home to an estimated 100,000 species of living things and that includes as many as 1400 species of wildflowers. Far, far too many to discuss here so we are going to talk about the more common, the more familiar and the "Dollys" of the wildflower world. Those plants that are extravagant, blatantly gaudy or uniquely attractive.

One of the early bloomers is the Spring Beauty. These delicate little flowers sometimes cover hillsides like a pink snowfall. Along the banks of Porter's Creek is a great place to appreciate these little


flowers. But you need to hurry, their blooming time is almost over, especially in the lower elevations.

Another early bloomer is the Bloodroot. This plant has big round leaves and a beautiful white blossom that blooms as early as March. The Bloodroot can handle early spring chill because its leaves will wrap around the stem to conserve heat. Again, you should already be out there enjoying this plant before the blooms are gone by April's end.

The Trout Lily is included among those early bloomers. The mottled patterns on the leaves resemble speckled trout found in the streams flowing through the Smokies. The flower is yellow with long slim petals which bend backwards in a graceful arc. Porter's Creek and Roaring Fork Motor Trail are good places to view the Trout Lily from March through May. It grows as high up as 6,000 feet so some late bloomers may be around at higher altitudes into June.

Depending on which source one goes to, there are eight, maybe nine or as many as ten varieties of trilliums in the Mountains and they all bloom early, from April through June. At the lower elevations, you'll find the Yellow Trillium even though it sometimes masquerades with other colors. This trillium is one of the first trilliums to bloom and does so from as early as late March through May.


Yellow Trillium

Trillium Wrapped Against the Cold

The most common trillium is the Large Flowered Trillium, so named because it has, well, a large white flower. The flower of some of these plants actually improves with age, turning from the bright white of youth to a soft pastel pink as they age. You'll find the Large Flowered Trillium from under 1,000 feet to the 3,500 foot elevations on the slopes and along Porter's Creek. Another common trillium is the Wakerobin. This darkly attractive maroon or deep red bloom is an enigma. It looks great, but smells really foul! You can experience this plant along the trails of Indian Gap and Spruce Falls.

The Smokies are home to some unusual plants such as Indian Pipe, Squaw Root and Fairy Wand. The Indian Pipe usually grows up to eight inches tall in small clumps. It is odd looking and can be several different colors all the way from its usual pale white to yellow to pink and on rare occasion, blue. The single flower is almost translucent and kinda hangs down and the slightest breeze sets it nodding.

The Squaw Root, is also known as Cancer Root because it was believed to have some curative effect on cancer. Another name for this plant is Bear Corn, probably because it resembles an ear of corn and maybe the person that named it fancied bears nibbling away at this parasitic plant. It will remind one of an elongated pine cone. Squaw Root is a parasite of tree roots--especially oak trees.  You can spot Squaw Root along Chestnut Top and Laurel Falls trails.

The Fairy Wand is a type of lily that is readily identified and aptly named. A long stem (wand) grows up out of a cluster of leaves and is covered with densely packed tiny flowers. Cades Cove Road is a good area to find these plants.

Another "different" looking plant that is unmistakable is the Jack In The Pulpit. This plant has a cylindrical cone with a flap at the top surrounding the actual flower inside. That flower is the "Jack" and the bract, the sheath is the pulpit. This plant likes moisture and can grow from a foot to more than three feet tall. It is found at the lower altitudes and once again, Porter's Creek is one of the best places to find this one from March through June.


Beautiful Bluet

No description of Smoky Mountain wildflowers could be even partially complete without mention of Rhododendrons, especially the Queen of the Rhody's the Catawba Rhododendron and the Flame Azalea. The Catawba Rhododendron  and other rhododendrons along with Mountain Laurel are two of the most prolific plants in the mountains. The rhododendrons grow from 8 to 12 feet and sometimes even taller, attaining tree-like heights. The two plants often grow in enormous thickets, especially on ridges and summits.  Rhododendrons grow along creek beds and at every elevation. They aren't just spring bloomers, growing and blooming well into summer at the higher elevations.

The Flame Azaleas grow singly and in clusters. The flowers are quite showy vase -shaped and are red, orange or yellow. They also bloom into summer beginning in April and at higher elevations, last into July.  They prefer drier open areas and can be very thick on balds and  ridges.

It's too bad we must limit the number of wildflowers we can talk about here because there are so many and all worth experiencing in their natural settings, the Great Smoky Mountains. We didn't get to the Anemones, the Wild Geraniums, Pink Lady's Slipper, Columbine and the spectacular Larkspur. We left out the Jewel Weed, Chicory, Bee Balm, Butterfly Weed and Dutchman's Breeches. Also passed over were the Wood Sorrel, Dwarf Iris, Mayapple, Indian Pink and hundreds of others.

We will however, mention the one wildflower I like to compare to Dolly; the most Dolly-like Fire Pink. This flower has so many of Ms. Parton's attributes. It is always very bright, showy and conspicuous. It is a bit gaudy and extremely appealing. Every body loves them and like Dolly, it is enduring. The blooming lasts for months from April through June, sometimes into July. The best place to enjoy the Fire Pink is along the first several hundred feet of Chestnut (seems appropriate) Top Trail. The best place to enjoy Dolly is during her annual parade or on the radio while cruising slowly through the mountains, in the Springtime. Or summer, maybe fall. And of course in the winter.


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