Wildflowers 101: Non-traditional Blooms

Wildflowers 101: Non-traditional Blooms

Tom Harrington

Story and images by Tom Harrington

When one gets into wildflowering, often they will find that it involves continuously learning new facts. In doing research for this article, I learned new things about hearts-a-bustin’ and Jack-in-the-pulpit. Today we will examine these flowers as well as leather vase vine. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some wildflowers that do not have what we would consider traditional blooms.


Let us examine Jack-in-the-pulpit first. This wildflower blooms from April to June and can be found on various trails such as Chestnut Top and Huskey Gap. Locating this wildflower is challenging because the “pulpit” (sheath) is generally a light green color, which blends in with surrounding vegetation. In deeply shaded woods, however, the sheath may be dark purple. I had always considered the sheath to be the bloom, but while preparing this report I learned that neither the sheath nor the “Jack” (spadix) is the flower. If you lift the hood above the sheath, you can spot the small white flowers, which bloom at the base of the Jack.

Leather vase vine
Leather vase vine

The plant can grow up to 36 inches tall, with the stem alone accounting for up to 11 inches. It has been said that Native Americans used the dried root to treat colds and coughs.

The second wildflower we shall examine is the leather vase vine. The blooms are a reddish-lavender color and resemble upside-down urns. The tips of the blooms curve outward. Over the many years that I have spent wildflowering, I have only discovered this plant in bloom along the gravel road into the Abrams Creek campground. The blooms appear between May and July.


The third flower I would like to discuss is hearts-a-bustin’. This shrub can be two to eight feet tall. In late summer, capsules on the plant split open and reveal bright red or orange seeds. I always believed that these were the blooms. I recently learned that the flower has small greenish-purple blooms that appear in mid-April if the winter was mild or May if the winter was harsh. I have seen this shrub blooming along Huskey Gap Trail.

If you develop an interest in wildflowers and get into searching for and identifying them, you may find the activity to be a most enjoyable and interesting one. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 1,600 different species of plants that bloom, so it is certainly a challenge to locate and identify many of them. If you like to learn new things, take on challenges, and get some exercise in the process, let me encourage you to consider taking part in “wildflowering” in our great park.

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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