Please remember that picking plants is prohibited in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but some fruits, berries, nuts, and certain mushrooms may be gathered for personal use within limits. Even some plants with traditional folk uses can have toxic properties if improperly prepared or used. Additionally, no wild mushroom should be eaten unless its identification is absolutely certain, which usually requires an expert to determine. Many mushrooms are poisonous, some deadly, and the responsibility for eating any mushroom or fungus rests with the individual.
Story and images by Tom Harrington
As we continue discussing wildflowers found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, let’s look at one that is probably known by almost everyone and one that is likely recognized by fewer of us.
Most likely, the vast majority of us enjoy seeing the black-eyed Susan. Its yellow blooms are commonly seen along roadways and in fields from June through August.
Two excellent locations to take advantage of seeing this beautiful plant in bloom are beside Cades Cove Loop Road and Wears Cove Gap Road. Normally the plant will grow from one to three feet tall.
The plant is pollinated by bees, wasps, beetles, flies, and a host of other insects. One source says the only butterfly that likes the black-eyed Susan is the Pearl Crescent. One interesting point about this spectacular plant is that it has developed a means to keep pests such as ants away. It has bristly hairs on the stem which makes it nearly impossible for ants to get through them.
It is reported that early settlers used the plant for a diuretic, and Native Americans made a yellow dye from the flowers and a tea from the roots to treat colds. It is said that the plant was likely transferred to the Eastern part of our country from the Great Plains in grain shipments. If you would like to grow the plant, one advantage you may experience in choosing this wildflower is that under ideal conditions the blooms can last up to a month.
The rose pink is likely not commonly recognized by most of us. The pink blooms appear in July and August, the plant can be from one to three feet tall, and the best locations to see it are along Cades Cove Loop Road and along Rich Mountain Road. A couple of summers ago there was a large patch of it blooming about three tenths of a mile out in the field on the left side of Hyatt Lane going from the entry side to the exit side of Cades Cove Loop Road. In my 21 years volunteering in the park, that was the first time that I had seen it at that location, and much to my disappointment it has not returned to that area.
In the past, the plant was used to treat yellow fever, stomachaches, nausea, and other ailments. Tonics made from the plant were considered good for overall health.
My hope is that many of you are treating yourselves to wildflower adventures in the beautiful sanctuary that is GSMNP. Happy wildflowering!
Tom Harrington is an Army veteran and retired insurance agent who has spent his life in Knox County, TN. He is an avid hiker and has volunteered for GSMNP since 2000.