By Dr. Annkatrin Rose, Department of Biology, Appalachian State University
What a difference a week can make at this time of the year! With the spring rains and warmer weather, the wildflowers are up in full force and heading for peak bloom around Boone now. All the usual suspects are making their appearance, including trilliums, bellworts, mayflowers, trout lilies and lots of others. The Fringed Phacelia along the Profile Trail was coming in strong last weekend and could quite possible be at peak bloom this weekend. The Large White Trilliums have started as well at the Daniel Boone Native Gardens and in our Nature Preserve. At this time, you can find a great variety of plants in bloom.
This is the best time of the year to look for wildflowers, and it just so happens to be our Spring Open House at the university this Saturday as well! If you’re coming into town for it, stop by at the Biology building for a tour and join us for a walk through the Nature Preserve on campus. Tours of the department will be going on from 9:30 AM to 1 PM and we’ll head out for the hike in the woods from 1 PM to 3 PM. Meeting point is the lobby of the Rankin Science Building (at the Geology Museum). There is a chance of thunderstorms, so come prepared for rain and muddy trails. Even if it’s too stormy to do the hike, you will still be able to pick up some information about the Nature Preserve including a trail map to explore it later on your own time when the weather is better.
Lower elevation trails are now alive with wildflowers. I went on a wildflower walk along the Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain State Park last weekend and most of the spring ephemerals had arrived on the scene with plenty of blooms. This is one of the best trails in the area to check out for wildflowers and you don’t have to walk far to see them. Just along the first stretch of the trail near the parking lot, you can find a great variety of plants in bloom. The Spring Beauties (Claytonia caroliniana) are still nice, while the Liverleaf (Hepatica acutiloba) flowers are already fading away for the year. Other plants have just started their big show. Particularly noticeable is the Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera) with its pink flowers and the Fringed Phacelia (Phacelia fimbriata). Make sure to check the phacelia flowers up close – they look like snowflakes and when they’re at peak bloom it will look like snow is covering the ground. They are joined by Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera), Southern Red Trillium (Trillium sulcatum), Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis) and Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), Canada Violet (Viola canadensis), and more. Other plants I’ve seen in bloom along the first mile of the trail include Bishop’s Cap (Mitella diphylla), Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), lots of Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum), Large-Flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), and the first of the Fairy Bells (Prosartes lanuginosa). The Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) and Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) had buds that should have opened up by this weekend to join the bloomers. Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is adding its showy white flowers to the understory.
If you’re taking a drive along the Parkway, you’ll notice lots of trees in bloom at this time as well. You can easily spot the white flowers of Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) and Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), the pink-purple of the Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), and the first of the large flowers opening up on the Mountain Magnolias (Magnolia fraseri). The Red Maples (Acer rubrum) are pretty much done blooming and showing off their developing red seed pods. If you stop at an overlook, you can see the new spring growth greening up the valleys and making its way up the mountain slopes. Great long-distance views are available if you are willing to hike just a little bit up the trail, for example at Rough Ridge, Beacon Heights, or Flat Rock. All three of these places along the Parkway offer very scenic views in reward for just a short hike uphill. If you’d rather stay close to Boone and inside the car, Thunderhills Overlook north of US 221 near Blowing Rock and Grandview Overlook south of Old 421 in Deep Gap have great long-distance view and are worth a stop. (Note that there is a section of Parkway closed due to a rock slide just north of Grandview Overlook, so take Old 421 instead of US 421 to get on the Parkway.)
In addition to our tour of the Nature Preserve on campus, you can join several guided hikes again this weekend at Grandfather Mountain State Park to see and identify what’s blooming. There will be a hike along the Nuwati Trail on Friday and walks along the Profile Trail on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. All of these are free and open to the public. You can find more details and other events at the NC State Park website.
Pictures: Trout Lilies, Creeping Phlox and Fringed Phacelia along the Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain State Park on Easter Sunday