Nature's Gift To The High Country


The curtain is rising on one of nature's most spectacular annual shows: "Wildflowers," are now appearing in a field near you and will continue to do so into late Autumn. The High Country's woodlands, mountains and roadsides are bursting forth in bloom as some of nature's most sought after attractions return from their cold, dark hide-out for their summer in the sun.

While budding stars are affected by a variety of factors, including elevation and weather conditions, a sure sign that Spring has sprung comes with the debut of the Dogwood trees. As early bloomers, arriving in March and April and providing white blossoms to brighten the drab winter landscape, the Dogwood is the North Carolina state flower, and can be found growing almost anywhere in the mountain and piedmont regions. What appear to be flowers are actually leaves, while the flower parts are small and barely conspicuous. In the Fall, the Dogwood's rich red foliage almost surpasses the beauty of its springtime blossoms.

Other early wildflowers sharing the stage during this premiere, Bloodroot include Bloodroot, Jack In The Pulpit, Mayapple, Dwarf Iris, Buttercups and Indian Paintbrush, just to name a few, each with its own personality and graceful entrance from the dark, damp soil.

As the heat is turned up through April into May, some of the more common flowering plants include the Trillium family, a relative of the Lily, seen covering the woods in hues of white and purple. Violets, including the Pansy and Johnny-jump-up, are all closely related bright-little flowers that spring up almost anywhere in patterns of rich purple, yellow and blue.

Lady Slipper The Lady's Slipper, whose scientific name Cypripedium is actually Greek for "Venus's Slipper", requires acidic soil and is most often found in the rich dirt of oak or pine woods; a unique flower, it is often described as a fun-house tunnel for bees, with a one-way entrance. The Lady's Slipper blooms in Spring, but matures slowly all summer and into fall, at which time its leaves die.

From the middle of Spring and well into Summer, you will find the beautiful Wild Geranium growing along roadsides and in open woodlands. The petals are pink and purple in color and is thought to resemble a crane; its scientific name comes from the Greek work geranos, which mean's crane's bill. Most people associate the name geranium with the more familiar plant with showy clusters of red to white blossoms used in sunny gardens and as a houseplant. That is a different genus but in the same family.

Dandelions are everywhere at anytime from late Spring to Fall. They open and close for several days and then close up again to mature seeds Early settlers discovered valuable uses for these pesky little blooms, and down through the ages, people have basked in the medicinal powers of the dandelion, using it as a laxative and a "cure-all" tonic, not to mention the relaxing effects of dandelion wine.

The tall, yellow flower, which sometimes reaches three feet and looks like a pale overgrown dandelion is called Goastbeard or "Go-to-bed-at-noon". The flower's sleepy behavior is responsible for its nickname, as the flower head unfolds in the morning when the sum comes up and then closes up at noon, similar to its cousin, the dandelion.

Rhododendron The Rhododendron, usually blooming in mid to late June, is perhaps one of the area's most favorite of all flowering plants and grows abundantly in wild gardens on the area's highest mountaintops. Neighboring Roan Mountain, Tenn., holds a festival each year in June to honor the deep, rich pink and purple shrubs that cover the mountain ridge.

It's name means "rose-tree", and no other plant lends itself to forming the character and beauty of the mountain landscape as it does so well. Several species of rhododendron exists in the High Country area, including the great laurel, which is perhaps, the most visible, growing at elevations above 3,000 feet and growing to a height of 35 feet. Its pinkish-white flowers appear in large clusters during June and July and its large, oblong green leaves add color to the mountains year-round. There is also the purple laurel that grows lush, deep-pink to purple flowers from April to June, and the Carolina Rhododendron, similar in appearance and usually found near streams and wooded slopes.

The Daisy, known scientifically as the Chrysanthemum, is perhaps the best-loved roadside wildflower of all. "He loves me, he loves me not. . ." Who could resist pulling off the petals, hoping for a positive outcome? The daisy is incredibly widespread, enlivening every highway and field, and the favorite of every child's summer bouquet picked for Mom.

Queen Anne's Lace is one of the most visible and best known of the summer wildflowers, a beautiful flower whose head resembles delicate circles of lace. The white clusters are made up of many separate little flowers arranged like a flat-topped umbrella. The one in the middle is usually a deep red or purple. According to legend, it represents a drop of blood shed by Queen Anne herself, when she pricked her finger while making lace.

Queen Anne's Lace is a member of the parsley family; its true nature closely resembles that of our cultivated carrot and its root is thought to have medicinal uses.

Chicory The clear blue flowers of the tall Chicory plant may be discovered along roadsides, frequently in the company of Queen Anne's Lace. Though usually blue, the flowers are occasionally white and even pink, on rare occasions They are at their brightest early in the morning, and by noon are looking ragged and worn; thus their nickname, Ragged Sailors.

Sweet clover grows famously in our mountains along roadsides and in fields. There are many species of clover, but perhaps the Red Clover presents the loveliest sight and sound as bumblebees love to hover around them in the middle of summer. A head of clover is a collection of many little florets, each one resembling a sweet pea. Pluck a few and suck on them to taste the sweet nectar, then you will better understand the honey bee's fancy.

Day Lilies grow in large clumps along roadsides and in fields. They add bright touches of orange and yellow to nature's artwork. The Day Lily has a strong resemblance to the Spotted Touch-me-not, which is also a tall, leafy plant with bright orangeflowers splotched with reddish brown. Its name comes from its ripe seedpods which pop open with the gentlest touch. It is also referred to as jewelweed, because the flowers hang down like pendants.

The Goldenrod is one of the most visible of all wildflowers, appearing late summer into autumn, with nearly 20 species growing along the Blue Ridge Parkway. All feature clusters of tiny, yellow (golden) blossoms. In ancient times, the goldenrod was also valued for its healing abilities, though modern-day asthma sufferers commonly blame the flower for making their condition more burdensome.

The Common Milkweed is also another June-August bloomer that was used extensively at one time as a healing element. Legend has it that Indians roaming these rugged lands used its white "sap" to eliminate warts and the root was chewed to cure dysentery, Also, dried leaves were used to ease the symptoms of asthma, and often smoked in a pipe. Common Milkweed can be found along the Parkway and in nearly every open field in the High Country.

Don't miss nature's greatest show - it's in progress now, everywhere you look, and it doesn't cost a single cent to enjoy.

Wildflower Bloom Chart:

Wildflowers serve as nature's paint brush as they blanket the High Country meadows from early Spring through late Autumn, splashing hundreds of different colors and shapes across the mountain terrain.

The following chart helps provide insight into the typical bloom times for just a few of the area's plants and flowers and includes locations where they are most commonly found. Additional and more in-depth information regarding wildflowers in the High Country may be found in the Watauga County Library, Appalachian State University's Belk Library or at local bookstores. Check especially in ASU's Appalachian Collection on the third floor of Belk Library - a collection specializing in Appalachian mountain region information.

Spring/Summer Flowers

Solomon's Seal Greenish/white flower Rocky woods April-June
Black-eyed Susan Yellow daisy, brown center Roadsides, fields July-August
St. John's Wort Bushy,yellow broad clusters Roadsides, fields June-Sept.
Wild Parsnip Yellow Fields, overlooks June-July
Catnip Spotted, white clusters Roadsides, pastures July-August
Yarrow White w/ fern-like leaves Open fields July-Sept.
Indian Pipe Translucent, white/pink Dense woods June-Oct.
Flowering Raspberry Purple, rose-like blooms Along woodlands June-July
Chicory Blue, stalkless flowers Old fields, roadsides July-Frost

Late Summer/Autumn Flowers

Bee-Balm Red, round clusters Damp areas July-Sept.
Bull Thistle Pink top blooms Pastures, roadsides July-Sept.
Goldenrod Yellow Meadows Aug.-Frost
Joe-Pye-weed Pink, purple, tall Meadows, thickets July-Oct.
Blue-flowered Aster Blue-violet, loose clusters Woodlands, streams Aug.-Frost
Rattlesnake Root White, pink blooms Shaded areas, woods Aug.-Frost

See also:

Birds Watching | Daniel Boone Native Gardens

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