Every year, visitors from all over the world travel to the Smoky Mountains to view our park's wildflowers. My favourite, Indian Pink, are blooming now at Sugarlands Visitor Center!
Learning to identify wildflowers is just one way of enjoying the native flora of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Wildflower photography, learning about folk and medicinal uses of wild plants, connecting with the cultural history of the Smokies, and using native plants as a source for artistic inspiration are some of the activities wildflower enthusiasts and aspiring naturalists enjoy.
Some even desire to reproduce the beauty of this park in their own home gardens by self-propagating. Others want to pick a flower and save it as a reminder of their visit. Just last week, I saw an Instagram photo of someone with yellow trillium in their hair. All of these are considered poaching – unlawful acts that do great damage to the delicate ecosystem within our park. So I beg you, do not pick wildflowers!
Ginseng, a formerly abundant wildflower, is still poached in the region. The plant is now classified as uncommon to rare. Gardeners occasionally dig up columbines or trilliums or yellow lady’s slippers, mostly along park trails. Their acts have a direct negative effect on the park’s flora and deprive others of enjoyment of their public lands.
It’s easy to feel helpless when you see a visitor picking wildflowers. No one enjoys accosting a fellow park-goer, but education is critical to preservation. Because plant poaching is such a serious problem in the park, feel free to have a conversation about poaching or report suspicious activities to the nearest ranger station.
If you are a gardener who wishes to grow native plants in their garden, look for “100% nursery propagated” or similar labels—and ask questions. Some species like lady’s slipper orchids and trilliums are extremely difficult to propagate, so if they are offered for sale, it should raise your suspicions. For a list of nurseries that propagate wildflowers, contact North Carolina Botanical Garden at UNC-Chapel Hill. You can also join your state native plant society!
And remember: Look, don’t pick!