Smokies Guide Summer Feature: Supporting Wildlife with Native Plants  

Smokies Guide Summer Feature: Supporting Wildlife with Native Plants   

2020 summer smokies guide

Did you know you can read the official Great Smoky Mountains National Park newspaper online? 

Skip the stop at a visitor center and go straight to the GSMA Smokies Guide page to read or download the latest summer 2020 Smokies Guide complete with park news, roadway maps, trip planning help, hiking essentials, junior ranger activities, and the national park’s official COVID-19 guidance.

While there, you can revisit an online trove of past issues of the park newspaper chronicling every corner of the Smokies through the years with interviews and stories from scientists, rangers, and the park experts.

In the latest Smokies Guide, a feature story explores how the Sugarlands Visitor Center pollinator garden came to be and how planting Smokies natives in your own neighborhood can provide critical support for regional wildlife including hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. A list of native plants compiled with the input of park biologists accompanies the feature and serves as a guide for planting some of the beauty of the Smokies right in your own backyard.

Two years ago, park partner Discover Life in America (DLiA) dedicated a brand new grant-funded pollinator garden at Sugarlands Visitor Center. The garden—a collaboration led by Great Smoky Moun­tains National Park in partnership with DLiA and with support from Great Smoky Mountains Association—was specifically designed to feature native flowering plants of the Smokies as part of a broader National Pollinator Health Strategy spurred by the alarming decline of insect populations throughout the country.

Now well-established and in full summer bloom, the Sugarlands pollinator garden showcases the mutu­ally beneficial relationship between native plants of the Smokies and the pollinating birds and insects that depend on them including bees, moths, butterflies, beetles, and flies. The garden also serves as a model of wildlife gardening for those who may be interested in converting their own lawn, porch, or windowsill into a slice of pollinator habitat.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is rich with diverse vegetation and home to more than 1,600 species of flowering plants. Roughly 500 park plant species are consid­ered rare, and 76 species are listed as threat­ened or endangered in the states of Tennessee and North Carolina. Ground-level ozone, or “smog,” has also been documented to nega­tively affect at least 30 native plant species in the Smokies.

While many of these specific native plant species may be harder to come by in more general nurseries, now is a great time to learn more about the flowering plants that are native to your own part of the world.

Here are a few plants found in the Smokies that you might try sourcing from your local nursery to help build greater ecological resil­ience across Southern Appalachia:

Sun plants generally attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Shade plants generally attract flies, beetles, and other small insects.
Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) Alumroot (Heuchera spp.)
Bee balm (Monarda didyma) Goatsbeard (Astilbe spp.)
Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) Red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Carolina bush pea (Thermopsis villosa) Sweetshrub (Calycanthus spp.)
Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.) Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)
Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)
Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica)
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)
Phlox (Phlox paniculata, P. maculata)
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Sumacs (Rhus spp.)*
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Sweet Joe-Pye-Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)

*ssp.: multiple species with several cultivated varieties available

Always source plants and seeds from a nursery. It is illegal to harvest plants in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you see someone poaching plants, call 865.436.1230 or report the activity at the nearest ranger station.

Image: Artwork for the native pollinator garden signage at Sugarlands Visitor Center. This project was grant-funded and a collaboration with NPS, DLiA, and GSMA. Artwork by Emma DuFort


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