Seeing old friends in the spring

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As the spring season rolls into the area, one of the biggest welcome signs in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other forested areas offer is colorful wildflowers. 

“Because you really only see them once a year, it’s like reacquainting with an old friend,” said GSMNP Park Ranger Lynda Douchette. 

In the higher elevations, many trees are still bare, and wildflowers have not yet begun to bloom.  But down in Deep Creek, Mingus Mill and other lower elevation trails, vibrant and colorful plant life is blossoming. 

Right now, the early bloomers are starting to sprout out in the Park.  For example, Douchette said she has spotted some yellow and purple violets and hepaticas on Mingus Creek Trail.  In other places, hepatica bluets, trilliums, phlox and buttercups have begun to bloom.

Adam Bigelow, owner of Bigelow’s Botanical Excursions, said for him, the new year begins when spring widlflowers appear. The new year came the earliest ever for him this year when he spotted a trout lilly on Moses Creek in Jackson County on Feb. 5.

“Trout lilly are the first to appear, so I did a dance and said ‘happy new year’ when I saw them,” he said.

He recently led a spring wildflower walk on the Deep Creek Trail and identified 50 species of flowers and plants beginning to come up from the trailhead to Indian Creek Falls.

Some flowers Bigelow spotted were purple orchids, violets, trillium, conopholis, also known as bear corn, Carolina Allspice, also known as bubby bush, and many more.

“The wake robin trillium and southern nodding trillium are all about to bloom and take off. Dogwood trees and sassafras trees are blooming now and will for a long time along with jack-in-a-pulpit,” he said.

In the next coming days, Douchette expects to see fringed phacelia, spring beauties, squirrel corn, dutchman’s breeches, wood anemone, showy orchids, wild geranium and other flowers littered among trails.

At the 3,500 elevation trails, the same flowers will begin to bloom around the beginning of May depending on the weather, Douchette said.

Also, she wants to remind people searching for wildflowers to not forget to look up.

“We have a lot of flowering trees as well,” she said. “Serviceberry, also known as sarvisberry or juneberry, a variety of cherry trees, redbud, silverbell and dogwood are very showy when they bloom.”

And like old friends, sometimes we only recognize their faces and not so much their names.  

Bigelow recommends two books for those interested in identifying and discovering native plants in Southern Appalachia “Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and Southern Appalachians” by Dennis Horn and “The Forager’s Harvest” by Samuel Thayer.

Across Southern Appalachia, he said there are around 1,600 flowering plants, trees and shrubs as well as 4,000 plants in general.

He expects the lower elevation wildflower season to end at the beginning of May when the trees’ canopy blocks the sunlight, so he recommends putting on your hiking shoes soon and catch a glimpse before it’s too late.

Smoky Mountain Times

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