Story and image by Tom Harrington
Over the years it has been most fulfilling, delightful, and exciting to start locating wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains during mid to late February into March. There is something about spotting the bloom of a wildflower in late winter and early spring that sparks a ray of hope in one’s soul after the preceding bleak and dreary days of winter.
One common early spring wildflower to look for is spring beauty, which can be found on many of the lower elevation trails in late February and throughout March. Some of the best trails to capture the beauty of this little jewel on your camera are Chestnut Top (first half mile), Little River, Huskey Gap, Finely Cane, Lower Mount Cammerer, and Porter Creek*.
Another benefit of “wildflowering” (my term for searching for, finding, identifying, and enjoying wildflowers) in the Smokies is what I describe as the two-tier feature. You ask, “What do you mean by the two-tier feature?”
Consider that the spring beauty blooms can be a treat to see on the lower elevation trails in late winter and early spring. This is the first tier. Later in the spring, these same blooms can cheer your heart in the higher elevations, which is the second tier. On the Appalachian Trail between Low Gap and Mt. Cammerer, and between Greenbrier Ridge Trail and Derrick Knob, the cover of spring beauties in bloom often is so thick that it appears that there is a blanket of snow on the ground in late April and early May.
Spring beauty blooms emit a wonderful fragrance. One can imagine an expensive perfume when encountering their scent. The fragrance is even more noticeable on a clear windless day as the sun beams down onto the delicate flowers.
Let me encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to get out onto the trails and “wildflower” in the coming days and months. You will likely find this activity benefiting you by calming you from your responsibilities, worries, and concerns that you deal with in your daily life. It is a good idea to get as many good wildflower books as possible to better enable you to identify the flowers.
*Porter Creek Trail is not scheduled to open until around March 27 because of road work.
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.