By Dr. Annkatrin Rose, Department of Biology, Appalachian State University
We have reached peak bloom for many of the spring ephemerals around the High Country. This is the weekend to get out to look for them if you can! I was fortunate enough last week to participate as a hike leader in the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with several colleagues from the department. With over 1,500 species of flowering plants, the Smokies boast more wildflowers than any other National Park in the US. They were about two weeks ahead of us in terms of bloom schedule at similar elevation. One neat thing about the mountains though is that you can find spring creeping up the slopes at this time of the year. If you missed your favorite spring flowers at lower elevation you can often still find them blooming at the higher elevations.
The pictures on this post are all from my trip home along the Blue Ridge Parkway on Sunday and closer to Boone. The spring greens have really come out along the Parkway now, except for the highest elevations where the trees are still bare of leaves and the maples are just starting to bloom. At the lower elevations along the Parkway, dogwoods and serviceberries are now joined by the magnificent flowers of the mountain magnolias (Magnolia fraseri) and a multitude of blooming shrubs. I was delighted to find the Carolina rhododendron in full bloom. You can see it growing on the cliff above Bear Den Overlook during a Parkway drive or on the rim of Linville Gorge if you are up for a hike. It is the first of our native rhododendrons to start blooming and has a somewhat lighter pink color than the more familiar Catawba rhododendron that flowers in late May to mid-June.
Among the shrubs, redtwig doghobble (Eubotrys recurvus), pinkshell azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi), and black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) are blooming along the Parkway now up into the higher elevations. The first two of these are Southern Appalachian endemics with the pinkshell azalea having such a narrow range that it is found wild only in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
Trilliums are now up in full force as well, with both white and red trilliums in bloom along the Parkway between Boone and Blowing Rock. Look for them roadside in somewhat shaded areas. Out in the open areas, you can find meadows full of the yellow blossoms of golden ragwort (Packera aurea) or the daisy-like pinkish-white flowers of fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus). If you are looking for short hikes into the woods to see the many spring ephemerals blooming on the forest floor, I recommend stopping at Flat Rock south of Grandfather Mountain or checking out sections of the Tanawha Trail and Mountains-to-Sea Trail running parallel to the Parkway. At this time of the year, nearly any trail will have some flowers to show.
There are ample opportunities to join a guided wildflower hike with all of our local State Parks (Elk Knob, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Jefferson, and New River) offering ranger-guided walks this weekend. To find a hike of interest, check out the State Park website (https://www.ncparks.gov/find-an-activity/events-and-programs). The Blue Ridge Chapter of the NC Native Plant Society will be doing another guided tour of the ASU Nature Preserve on Wednesday next week (May 8) meeting at the South Parking lot near the wind turbine at 7 PM. If you missed the Open House tour or want to take another look with the flowers further, feel free to join us!