April 2018 – “April Wildflowers in the Smokies”

Wildflowers, uncultivated, grow freely in fields, forests, and meadows without human intervention. The origins of many wildflowers are unknown and they appear to be native plants, varieties differing by regional area. Today many wildflowers can also be intentionally seeded or planted but others still grow wild, spreading and reproducing, and delighting us with their beauty.

Living near the Great Smoky Mountains, I look forward to the wildflowers blooming every year. When J.L. and I were working on our hiking guidebook, we were on the trails often through all seasons, always seeing new flowers along the way.  But April was always the prettiest month of the year for enjoying the wildflowers. It’s also in April when the wildflower pilgrimages and wildflower walks around the mountain areas are held. There are more than 1,500 kinds of flowering plants in the Smokies, more than in any other national park, so there are always many varieties and types of wildflowers to discover.

On our hikes and walks in the mountains, we have taken many photos of wildflowers, like the photo of us at the beginning of this post with several varieties of trillium, an early Smokies wildflower. However photographer fans and friends of ours, that we’ve met on the “writer’s road,” take far more spectacular and beautiful photos than we do, so I’ve spotlighted some of their work in this blog post. Raven Pat Smith’s photos above show a glorious white trillium, an early purple violet and wild bluebells. Other early wildflowers in the mountains include white rue anemone, bloodroot, and pink spring beauty as in Pam Mullinix’s photos. Pam’s other shots are of flowering quince and dwarf blue larkspur.

Daffodils, brought to the Smoky Mountains by the settlers, are common in early spring, especially in areas like Cades Cove where many settlers once lived. Dogwood trees were also planted by early settlers and later spread, as did other non-native flowering trees and shrubs. We often discover daffodils, flowering shrubs, and non-native plants around the crumbling walls, foundations, and chimneys of old homesteads—the flowers living on long after the people and farms are gone. Marie Burchett Merritt’s photos on the right show dogwoods in bloom, yellow trillium, and wild dwarf iris—that I always love spotting on the trail.

J.L. and I have many favorite “Wildflower Trails” we love to return to every April, knowing we will find a wide variety of wildflowers there. One of these is the Chestnut Top Trail near the Townsend Wye where forty species of wildflowers can be found on the first mile alone.

Another trail we love is the Porters Creek Trail in the Greenbrier area where we have seen trillium, blue and yellow violets, and trout lily like in Jim Bennett’s photo. Along the roadsides and in other park areas you will find purple ironweed and orange butterfly weed, also in Jim’s photos, which the bees and butterflies love. We were delighted to spot our first pink ladies slippers on a quiet side pathway off the Porters Creek Trail, too.  Another treat in the spring further up the Porters Creek are the white fringed phacelia which spread across the ground like a delightful carpet along both sides of the trailside.

After you explore the mountains trails for many years, you learn where certain flowers can be found most readily … like flame azalea in late April and May on Gregory Bald, mountain laurel on the Smokemont Loop and Chestnut Top Trail in early summer, and later rosebay rhododendron on the Alum Cave and Finley Cane trails. Vibrant pink Catawba rhododendron, like in Kristina Plaas’s photo, grow in the higher elevations like on Andrews Bald or near the Chimney Tops Trailhead. Many wildflowers we simply run into along a trail … stopping to delight in our “finds.” Special wildflowers, always a treat to discover, are white dutchman’s britches, yellow lady’s slippers, and red Indian paintbrush, also in Kristina Plaas’s photo below.

We tried to mention in our hiking guide The Afternoon Hiker trails especially known for wildflowers but flowers in the mountains often show up in unexpected places, and there are flowers of different types to see from early spring into the late fall. But April is still the best time to see the most wildflower varieties in the mountains. If you ever come to the Smokies in April the show of wildflowers will delight you and give you lovely memories to carry home. But remember that anytime you explore the woods, parks, and fields near your own hometown in the warmer seasons that you will find wildflowers, too. This month, I hope you will head outdoors—and get out of your car and walk up a trail—to enjoy the beauty you will find at every turn.

Springtime is the land awakening.” [L. Grizzard]…“For, lo, the winter is past, …the flowers appear on the earth.” [Song of Solomon 2:11, KJV]… and “Spring invites us into a fairy land of imagination where flowers bloom with joy, butterflies fly with song, and love dances with love.” [D. Mridha] … Happy Spring and Happy April.

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