Wildflowers 101: Late Winter Wonders

Wildflowers 101: Late Winter Wonders

Story and photos by Tom Harrington

Searching for, finding, and identifying wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains enables one to expand their horizons and add new chapters to their national park experience through beauty and an enjoyable, healthy activity.

Trailing Arbutus Flower in the Smokies
Trailing arbutus

When you hear the word spring, you may associate it with flowers. In the Great Smoky Mountains, wildflowers cannot be restricted to spring as they may be seen from late February to mid-November.

Trailing arbutus is one wildflower that can be spotted in late February along many trails in the Smokies, including Chestnut Top Trail, Cooper Road Trail, and Abrams Falls Trail. The blooms may be white or pink. The fragrance of the blooms reminds me of an expensive perfume. In fact, women who resided in this area before the park’s creation would often use the flower as a perfume.

Another early wildflower found in the park is the long-spurred violet. These lovely blooms, which can be blue or violet, may be seen on Chestnut Top Trail beginning in late February. One technique that has been helpful to me in identifying wildflowers is associating the bloom or leaf with something that it looks like. For example, when I see the long-spurred violet bloom it reminds me of the mythical horse-like animal with a single horn growing from the center of its forehead.

Long Spurred Violet Bloom
Long-spurred violet

Hepatica can also be seen in late winter and early spring in our national park. These blooms may be pink, white, blue, lavender, or purple. There is a very interesting legend about hepatica. It is said that the early Greeks used it to treat cowardice, freckles, and indigestion. One may see this flower blooming along Chestnut Top Trail and West Prong Trail in late winter.

One more notable early bloomer of the Smokies is bloodroot. The blooms of this flower are white, and I have seen them in the late winter on Chestnut Top Trail, Huskey Gap Trail, Middle Prong Trail, and Lower Mount Cammerer Trail. It has been said that Native Americans used the sap from the blooms of bloodroot to paint their bodies and to dye clothing and baskets.

For a little fun, challenge some of your friends to see who can find the first wildflower of the season and then see who can find the most wildflowers before April 1.

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.


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