People visiting the Great Smoky Mountains for the first time are often amazed by the variety of trees and plants these mountains foster. The Great Smoky Mountains are located in a temperate rainforest which also happens to be one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. In fact, a research project by Discover Life in America called the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory has been ongoing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for more than a decade. The All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory has cataloged over 100,000 species of plants and animals and discovered thousands of before unknown species as well. With diversity like this, the variety of wildflowers in the Smokies is astounding.
Native wildflowers begin blooming in the Great Smoky Mountains as early as the first week of March. Most of the ground plants flowering at this time are small and grow low, making spotting them from a moving vehicle difficult. To see the earliest wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a visitor would do best to explore on foot. Luckily, wildflowers are so abundant in these ancient mountains that it is not necessary to go more than a few hundred yards to discover a wide variety.
Where to Hunt Early Wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains
Half the fun of looking for wildflowers is in the search. It’s a simple and surprisingly fun adventure to pick up an easy-to-use wildflower guide book, such as Wildflowers of the Smokies, get out of the car and go find some of the earliest of nature’s floral gems.
Native wildflowers show their colors first at lower elevations. Protected mountain coves – small sheltered areas between ridges – and slopes with southern exposure are usually where the first blooms are spotted. Among the best places to see early wildflowers is the Chimney’s Picnic Area located on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This trail is steep in places, but offers such an awesome variety of plants it is well worth the extra work to walk it.
On the North Carolina side of the National Park, Bradley Fork Trail, at the north end Smokemont Campground, offers a lovely walk along the creek as well as an abundance of wildflowers. Deep Creek Trail is also located in the North Carolina half of the park and runs past multiple waterfalls as well as early blooming plants. Both of these trails are relatively level. Deep Creek in particular is appropriate for even very young children.
Early Spring Wildflowers of the Great Smoky Mountains
One of the first wildflowers to poke through last year’s carpet of fallen leaves is appropriately named Spring Beauty (Clayonia virginica). This little flower is about an inch in diameter and stands on a stem 4-10 inches tall. Several flowers often bloom on one stem. The flower is distinct, white with pink stripes running the length of the petal.
Another very early blooming plant is commonly called Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). This plant’s name comes from its red sap, which can cause skin irritation similar to poison ivy. The petals of this plant are brilliant white, and the yellow stamens in the center stand out vividly against them. It is the single leaf of this plant that makes it so unique and fun to run across in the woods. The leaf is heavily veined and a rich blue-green in color. It curls up to surround the white bud before the flower blooms. The sight is similar to a pair of hands cradling a wand capped with a small jewel.
Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis) is another white flower. Its foliage is airy and fern-like, blueish gray in color, growing 6-10 inches above the ground. The flowers stand over the foliage, swaying like several pairs of small, puffy-legged pants stacked on hangers. This flower is a white variation of Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia).
The flower of Sharp-Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) is most often white, but can be pink, pale blue or light purple. The flower stands only 2-4 inches high, but the plant is easily identified by the 3-lobed, leathery looking leaves which often have a rusty or red tone. This ground cover plant grows in moist areas in spreading groups that are a joy to come upon when they are in bloom.