Wildflowers in the Smoky Mountains

Smoky mountain wildflowers rhododendron near clingmans dome in east tennessee

Embark on a journey through the enchanting world of wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll or an adventurous hike, you’ll be amazed by the sheer beauty and diversity of flowers that await you. With over 1,500 different types of flowering plants, including more than 300 rare varieties, this national park is a treasure trove of botanical wonders.

From late March to mid-May, you’ll find Spring Beauty, Trillium, Birdfoot Violets, Jack in the Pulpits, Dutchman Britches, Purple Phacalia, and Snowy Orchids in bloom.

April through July brings Rhododendron, Indian Pipe, Indian Pink, Mountain Laurel, Lady Slipper, Indian Paintbrush, Fire Pink, and Columbine.

July to October, the park is alive with colorful wildflowers like Yellow-Fringed Orchids, Bee Balm, Cardinal Flower, Monkshood, Jewel Weed, and Blue Gentian.

Types of wild flowers in the Smoky Mountains:

Bee Balm Bee Balm

The name Bee Balm originates from the belief that its leaves possess the power to alleviate the pain caused by a bee sting. This striking red flower measures around one and a half inches long and grows in clusters ranging from a few feet to several feet in diameter. It thrives in fertile, moist, and acidic soils found at elevations between 2,500 and 6,500 feet. Additionally, the leaves emit a pleasant scent. The Bee Balm can be partially distinguished by its color. Look out for it at popular spots like the Chimneys Picnic Area, Little River Trail, Meigs Creek, and the Smoky Mountain Institute in Treemont.

Black-eyed Susan Black-eyed Susan

The Black-Eyed Susan is a beautiful flower with a unique flower-head. It has 10 to 20 yellow, daisy-like, ray flowers that encircle a chocolate brown center of disc flowers. This flower is commonly seen growing in dense clumps along roadsides and open fields throughout the Smokies. If you visit Cades Cove between May and August, you’ll be able to spot these lovely flowers in the meadows.

Bloodroot Bloodroot

The Bloodroot is a stunning flower belonging to the poppy family. With its delicate petals ranging from white to pink, this one-to-two inch bloom is surrounded by numerous sepals. Despite the chilly temperatures of early spring, this resilient flower thrives and its leaves curl around the stems to retain warmth. You can spot the Bloodroot in moist and deciduous woods. Take a stroll along Porter’s Creek, Chestnut Top Trail, or School House Gap Trails to witness the enchanting beauty of the Bloodroot. Its blooming period spans from March to April, gracing us with its presence in the early season.

Butterfly Weed Butterfly Weed

The butterfly week is a magnet for butterflies. These petite clustered orange flowers have a fuzzy stem with five petals that curve backward and a central crown in pairs. They stand out in the dry soil landscape of open areas up to 2,000 feet in elevation. You can spot them in Cades Cove and along park roads from June to Septembe

Catawba Rhododendron Catawba Rhododendron

The Catawba Rhododendron shrub is one of the most popular wildflower in the Smokies. It is known for its striking rose-purple flowers. Growing at elevations of 3,000 to 6,000 feet on exposed ridges, this shrub can reach heights of 8 to 12 feet. Rhododendrons form dense thickets that can cover entire mountainsides. Along streams in the National Park, on the Ramsey’s Cascade and on Abrams Falls trails is where you’ll spot Rhododendron.

Chicory Chicory

Chicory is often dismissed as a mere weed when spotted along roadsides. Its flowers, measuring approximately 1.5 inches in width, showcase a beautiful arrangement of 12 to 20 rays each adorned with finely fringed square tips. The vibrant blue color of this flower makes it easy to spot along the lower elevation roadsides.

Columbine Columbine

Columbine flowers are known for their striking, bell-like appearance. They have nodding red and yellow blossoms that are 1 to 2 inches wide, with 5 petals that curl upwards resembling hollow spurs. These flowers are abundant in moist, rocky areas of the park, typically found at elevations between 900 to 2,500 feet. Keep an eye out for Columbine along the roadsides, the lower section of the Little River Gorge, and near the Bud Ogle Cabin.

Common Milkweed Common Milkweed

The milkweed is a well-known plant to most people because of its seedpods that split open in the fall, releasing silky, parachute-like seeds that are dispersed by the wind. Standing at a height of 4 to 6 feet, this robust plant features large oval leaves and spherical clusters of small flowers at the tips of its stems, often found in fields and along roadsides. Keep an eye out for this flower along Cades Cove Loop from June to August.

Common Wood Sorrel Common Wood Sorrel

The wood sorrel is easily identified by its shamrock-shaped leaves made up of 3 inverted heart-shaped leaflets. Its single flower boasts 5 white petals with dark pink veins. This plant typically grows in groups. Look for the Wood Sorrel in lush, damp forests and hemlock woods at high altitudes in the Smoky Mountains from May to July.

Dog Hobble Dog Hobble

You can spot the dog hobble hanging in clusters. These flowers have a strong scent and grow on arching shrubs that can reach a height of 5 to 7 feet. They prefer to grow in dense thickets, in moist and shaded areas with acidic soil. If you’re looking to find them, head to School House Gap, Cosby Nature Trail, or The Roaring Fork Motor Trail between May and June.

Dutchman's Britches Dutchman’s Britches

Dutchman’s Britches is a unique and uncommon flower. It resembling a pair of puffy white pants turned upside down. The cream colored waxy flowers measure about 3/4 inch. These beautiful blooms can be found at elevations ranging from 900 to 5,000 feet in the Smokies. Keep an eye out for these in Porters Creek, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, or the Chimneys from April through May.

Dwarf Iris Dwarf Iris

The Dwarf Iris proudly represents the State Flower of Tennessee. This flower showcases a pale-to-deep purple color and is segmented into 6 parts. Its 3 narrow, arching petals are paired with 3 broader sepals that curve downward, featuring streaks of purple and crests of white to yellow ridges. Widely spread across lower elevations of the Smokies near Roaring Fork Nature Trail and Porter’s Creek during April to May.

Fairy Wand Fairy Wand

The Fairy Wand is an intriguing plant with a name that perfectly captures its appearance. Its stem resembles a wand, tapering at the end, and emerges from a cluster of leaves at the base. At the tip of the stem, there is a dense cluster of delicate white flowers. This beautiful flower can be spotted in various parts of the Smokies including Cades Cove Road and School House Gap Trail from May to July.

Fire Pink Fire Pink

Fire Pink is one of the brightest and most easy to find wildflowers. Its vibrant colors are a magnet for hummingbirds. It thrives in dry rocky areas, as well as open woods and thickets. If you venture onto Chestnut Top Trail, you’ll encounter these flowers within the first half mile of the trail. The Fire Pink can be found from April through June.

Flame Azalea Flame Azalea

Throughout the park, you’ll come across the popular Flame Azalea, both as individual plants and in clusters. This shrub sheds its leaves and showcases beautiful tubular flowers in vibrant hues of orange, red, and yellow. Hybrid Azaleas, on the other hand, form impressive groupings in dry woodlands and mountain clearings, blooming from April to July depending on the altitude.

Foamflower Foamflower

Foamflower comes in white and pink varieties, growing on leafless stems that are 6 to 12 inches tall. The flowers have 5 petals and 10 long stamens that stick out beyond the petals. Keep an eye out for Foamflower in the dense woods of the Smokies from April to June.

Indian Pink Indian Pink

The Indian pink flowers display trumpet-shaped red petals with striking yellow centers, arranged in a distinctive one-sided cluster. This plant, a rarity in the Great Smokies, can only be found in limestone soils near the park’s boundaries. No other species from the Logania family, a source of strychnine, exists within the park. Keep an eye out for these flowers along Rich Mountain Road and White Oak Sinks Trail in June.

Indian Pipe Indian Pipe

An odd plant, Indian Pipe found usually growing in small clumps, the stem is 5 to 8 inches tall, with a single nodding, nearly translucent flower is most often white, but it can be shades of pink, yellow, or even blue. Indian Pipe grows in heavily shaded areas. Indian Pipe can be found throughout the Smokies. Indian Pipe may been seen along the Trails to Mt. LeConte, White Oak Sinks, and the Spruce Falls Trail during May to September.

Jack-In-The-Pulpit Jack-In-The-Pulpit

The jack in the pulpit is a fascinating flower. Many mistakenly believe that the green, white, or purple sheath that surrounds and covers “Jack” is the actual flower. However, that sheath is just a leaf bract. To discover the tiny flower, you need to lift up the leaf and peek inside. The Jack-In-The-Pulpit typically grows between twelve to thirty-six inches and can be found in damp, moist woodlands at lower elevations. You can find them at Porter’s Creek, Chestnut Top, or School House Gap Trail from March to June.

Jewelweed Jewelweed

Jewelweed gets their name from the silvery drops of dew seen at the tips of the leaves in the morning. They are also called Touch-Me-Nots because if you touch the seedpods when they are just about ripe, they explode and shoot the seeds out to disperse them. This orange and yellow flower grows 3 to 5 feet, along stream sides, wet soils at 2,000 to 3,500 feet in elevation. This flower can be found along Cades Cove Trail, Little River Trail, and Sugarlands Nature Trail during June throughout August.

Large Flowered Trillium Large Flowered Trillium

Jewelweed earned its name due to the glistening droplets of dew that adorn the leaf every morning. Another nickname for this plant is Touch-Me-Nots, as the seedpods have a tendency to break open and scatter their seeds. This flower comes in shades of orange and yellow. It thrives in moist environments along stream sides and wet soils at elevations ranging from 2,000 to 3,500 feet. This flower can be found along Cades Cove Trail, Little River Trail, or Sugarlands Nature Trail between June and August.

Larkspur Larkspur

The unique tall larkspur can reach heights between 2 to 6 feet. It showcases bluish-purple flowers with 5 petals, where the upper sepal extends backwards into an upright spur. The 4 petals are tiny, with 2 of them extending into the spur created by the sepals. The leaves are mainly basal, palmate, and divided into 5 to 7 irregular segments. This flower thrives in lush woods from late March to early May.

Little Brown Jug Little Brown Jug

The little brown jug plant has distinctive arrow-shaped leaves and jug-shaped calyx. You’ll noticed that it lacks petals making it stand out. Its thick, evergreen leaves are commonly seen on wooded slopes reaching up to 3,000 feet. The small jugs, usually concealed by the leaves, are a purplish brown color and less than an inch in length. Look for them in areas like Porter’s Creek, schoolhouse Gap Trail, and Sugarlands Nature Trail in May.

Lousewort Lousewort

Lousewort displays dainty three-inch quarter flowers that consist of two petals merging together in a tubular shape. The upper petals arch downward over the shorter petals. Lousewort comes in various shades of yellow, red and a combination of both. They can be found along the trails of Roaring Fork Nature Trail, Baskin Falls Trail, or the Blue Ridge Parkway between April and June.

Mayapple Mayapple

Mayapple features a solitary, glossy, drooping, white blossom that emerges from the center where two leaves meet. Growing to a height of around one foot, the two umbrella-shaped toothed leaves are divided into five to seven lobes. Large clusters can be found in open forests and along road edges at elevations of up to 2,500 feet. Plants with just one leaf will not produce flowers. Keep an eye out for the Mayapple along Porter’s Creek, School House Gap, and Chestnut Top from April to June.

Painted Trillium Painted Trillium

The Trilliums are undoubtedly some of the most vibrant flowers in springtime. There 9 varieties of Trilliums in the Smoky Mountains.

Pink Lady's Slipper Pink Lady’s Slipper

The Pink Lady’s Slipper has a unique design that specifically attracts certain pollinators. It’s upper two petals are slender and elongated, displaying a range of colors from yellow-green to purple-brown. However, it’s the other petal that truly catches the eye. This petal is large in shape, measuring one to three inches in length, and features a stunning pink color. Although generally rare it can be found near Schoolhouse Gap Trail and the White Oak Sinks during the months of April to May.

Robin's Plantain Robin’s Plantain

The Robins Plantain is a sunflower species that blooms with flowerheads measuring 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide. It features around 50 very thin, violet or pink rays surrounding a flat, yellow central disc. This plant grows between 6 to 20 inches in height on a hollow stem. You can discover the Robins Plantain in rich woods and along roadsides throughout the park. Keep an eye out for this flower along the Porter’s Creek Trail from March to June.

Rue Anemone Rue Anemone

Rue Anemone, with its long, slender stems, displays one to three beautiful blossoms sprouting from the main stem. These delicate flowers, measuring about one inch in width, boast five to ten sepals ranging from white to a soft shade of pink. You can often spot Rue Anemone growing amidst the roots of trees on wooded slopes up to 3,000 feet in elevation. Keep an eye out for its blooming season from March to May along Porters Creek and Chestnut Top Trail.

Shooting Star Shooting Star

Shooting star flowers are drooping flowers with petals that point strongly backwards, arranged in clusters on flat tops. They can be spotted in open woods and meadows from April to June.

Spiderwort Spiderwort

The Spiderwort is a violet flower that grows in a cluster at the end of its stem. Each flower has three rounded petals and six hairy stamens of yellowish gold. Standing at a height of 12 to 32 inches, this flower has leaves that resemble grass. You can spot the Spiderwort in the park’s low to mid elevations and along the trail of White Oak Sinks. These flowers bloom in June to July, displaying a range of blue shades.

Spring Beauty Spring Beauty

Spring beauty is a delicate flower that thrives in vast numbers, creating a stunning display that resembles confetti scattered across the forest. You can find spring beauty along Porters Creek.

Stonecrop Stonecrop

Stonecrops are tiny white flowers that grow on fleshy plants reaching heights of 4 to 5 inches. These plants have ovate leaves that spread along the ground and over rocks, often forming large colonies near stream banks, in moist forests, and on large boulders at elevations of up to 2,500 feet. The flowers have three horizontally curved blooms, each featuring five narrow white petals. Stonecrop can be observed along the trails of Chestnut Top and Little River Road, blooming from April to June.

Squaw-Root Squaw-Root

Squaw-root, a parasite found on the roots of trees, particularly oaks, displays incredibly tiny yellow flowers. These flowers, measuring half an inch, range in color from yellowish to tan and feature two lips – the upper lip forms a hood over a three-lobed lower lip. Standing between 4 to 9 inches tall, this brown plant resembles a slim pine cone. It is uncommon but can be spotted in Oak Forests below 4,500 feet in elevation. Look out for it along the trails of Laurel Falls and Chestnut Top from April to June.

Teasel Teasel

Teasel conveys a clear “Do Not Touch” message, as every part of the plant is covered in prickles. The egg-shaped flower head maintains its structure long after the small flowers have bloomed, standing prominently in the fields even during the winter months. The soft lavender or almost white flowers peek out from between the spines, creating a beautiful band in the center of the flower head before spreading outwards.The stem can reach heights of 2 to 10 feet. This plant can be found in meadows from July through October.

Trout Lily Trout Lily

This yellow flower, with its delicate nodding motion, has 6 petals and sepals that gracefully curve backwards. The 6 to 8 inches leaves are beautifully speckled, resembling the patterns found on mountain stream trout. You can spot the Trout Lily at elevations as high as 6,000 feet, particularly along the trails of Porter Creek, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, and Roaring Fork Motor Trail from March through May.

Virginia Bluebells Virginia Bluebells

This plant has smooth gray-green foliage and nodding clusters of pink buds that open into light blue trumpet-shaped flowers. This flower can be found in moist woods, from March to June.

Wakerobin Wakerobin

This Trillium is frequently seen in the high Smokies. The single, drooping flower emits a not-so-pleasant scent. It stands tall on a stem above a cluster of 3 wide oval, diamond-shaped leaves. It is a deep red or purplish-red color. It can be found along the paths of Spruce Falls and Indian Gap from April to June.

Wild Geranium Wild Geranium

The Wild Geranium has pink to purplish hues. It stands tall and has round petals, with five sepals, ten stamens, and one pistil. These beautiful flowers grow in loose clusters of two to five. You can spot them in the park at elevations ranging from low to mid, up to 3,500 feet. They are commonly found in moist woodlands and coves, adding a touch of beauty to their surroundings. They can be found along Porters Creek and Greenbriar between April and June.

Witch Hazel Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a tall flowering shrub that features clusters of spidery, yellow flowers either on the leaves or on bare branches after the leaves have dropped. You can spot witch hazel along the paths of Porter’s Creek and Bud Ogle Nature Trail.

Yellow Trillium Yellow Trillium

Yellow Trillium is a beautiful flower that can be easily spotted in the lower elevations of the Smokies. During the months of April through May, you can find yellow trilliums along the roadsides and on various trails in the Smokies.

Photographs taken by Jill Strickland Racek.