Discover the Great Smoky Mountains’ beautiful wildflowers – delivering the promise of warmer days to come. Tiny Bluets spread out in lengthy carpets along the edges of the trail, mirroring the clarity of the sky, while Flame Azaleas reflect the sunsets. Discover the natural world of wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains in all seasons.
The variety of latitudes, elevations, and settings means that visitors to the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains – even casual walkers, day hikers, weekenders or long-distance travelers – have the opportunity to discover the beauty that comes from the grand diversity of flowers to be found. The National Park is home to approximately 1,500 kinds of different flowering plants, including over 300 rare plants. The reason for the large number of species is attributable to the variety of latitudes, elevations, rain, the impact of the ice age, and the preservation efforts by the National Park Service.
The Smoky Mountains are known for wildflowers. Spring flowers bloom late March to Mid May, including: Spring Beauty, Trillium, Birdfoot Violets, Jack in the Pulpits, Dutchman Britches, Purple Phacalia and Snowy Orchids. During April through July, you can find many wildflowers including: Rhododendron, Indian Pipe, Indian Pink, Mountain Laurel, Lady Slipper, Indian Paintbrush, Fire Pink, and Columbine. And throughout July into October, there are many brilliant-colored wildflowers blooming throughout the park including: Yellow-Fringed Orchids, Bee Balm, Cardinal Flower, Monkshood, Jewel Weed, and Blue Gentian. Hiking trails and auto touring areas offer great opportunities to view the wildflowers throughout the park.
VISUAL TOUR OF EAST TENNESSEE’S COLOR
Photographs and descriptions by Jill Strickland Racek
Bee Balm got its common name from the belief that the leaves could ease the pain of a bee sting. This bright red flower is about one and a half inches long and occurs in beds of a few feet to several feet in diameter. It grows in rich, wet, acid soils from 2,500 to 6,500 feet in elevation. The leaves have a pleasant odor. This complex genus occurring in the park can be separated to some degree based on color. It can be found along the Chimneys Picnic Area, Little River Trail, Meigs Creek, and Smoky Mountain Institute in Treemont.
The flower-head consists of 10 to 20 yellow, daisy-like, ray flowers surrounding a chocolate brown center of disc flowers – a foam typical of the sunflower family. Black-Eyed Susans tends to grow in dense clumps, along roadsides and open fields throughout the Smokies. The Black-Eyed Susan can be found in Cades Cove in meadows during May through August.
The Bloodroot is a beautiful clear white flower of the poppy family. The one-two inch bloom has eight or more white to pink petals around the cluster of many sepals. It blooms early in the season and can endure the cold temperatures of early spring, the leaves stay curled around the stems to conserve warmth. The Bloodroot can be found in moist and deciduous woods up to 3,000 feet in elevation. Discover Bloodroot along Porter’s Creek, Chestnut Top Trail, and School House Gap Trails. It blooms in the early season, lasting from March through April.
This brilliant flower attracts butterflies. This small clustered orange colored flower, crown the leafy, hairy stem with five curved back petals, and a central crown in clusters of two. They are a conspicuous part of the landscape on dry soils in open areas up to 2,000 feet in elevation. They appear in Cades Cove, and along the roads in the park, during June throughout September.
This gorgeous shrub, is one of the most popular wildflowers in the Smokies. Its rose-purple flowers are dramatic, and the scrub is easily seen because it grows in well-exposed ridges at 3,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. The usual height is 8 to 12 feet, but occasionally it too attains the size of a small tree. The Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel both grow in thickets so dense they can nearly cover an entire mountainside, and indeed they do blanket the summits of numerous mountains. Rhododendron is often intermingled with mountain laurel. Rhododendron can be found bordering streams throughout the Park. You can find Rhododendron on the trail of Ramsey’s Cascade, and Abrams Falls during May through July.
This common plant is often considered just a weed in its habitat along roadsides. The 1.5 inch wide flowers have everything from 12 to 20 rays, whose square tips are finely fringed. This flower possesses a blue of the clearest kind. It can be found in the lower elevations along roadsides.
This beautiful flower, the wild Columbine presents an elegant show. The Columbine’s flower has a showy, bell like flower that is a nodding red and yellow blossom, 1 to 2 inches in size, with 5 petals curving upwards as hollow spurs. Columbine is found in abundance in elevations of 900 to 2,500 feet in moist, rocky areas of the park. Columbine can also been seen along the roadside, the lower portion of the Little River Gorge and near the Bud Ogle Cabin. It is fairly common throughout April and early May.
Most people are familiar with the milkweed because of its seedpods that split open in the fall, exposing silky, parachuted seeds for the wind to disperse. This 4 to 6 foot stout plant, with large oval leaves and spherical clusters of small flowers at stem tips, appears in fields and along roadsides. You can find this flower along Cades Cove Loop during June throughout August.
A welcome sight on a hike through the cool, high elevation forest of the region, this St. Patrick’s Day Flower is well known by its leaves as it is by its flower. Legend says that St. Patrick used the leaf to explain Doctrine of the Trinity to a tribal chief during one of his missionary journeys. This plant is easily recognized by the shamrock-shaped leaves consisting of 3 inverted heart-shaped leaflets. The single flower has 5 white petals with obvious deep pink veins. It often grows in colonies. You can find the Wood Sorrel in rich, moist woods and hemlock forests in the high elevations in the Smokies during May through July.
These strong-scented white flowers hang in clusters, arching 5 to 7 foot shrubs. They usually grow in dense thickets in moist, shaded, acid soils, from 900 to 5,000 feet in elevation. Look for this shrub along School House Gap, Cosby Nature Trail, and The Roaring Fork Motor Trail during May through June.
This rather rare, distinctively-shaped nodding flower lives up to its name. The cream-like shaped, 3/4 inch, waxy flower looks like an upside-down pair of white, puffy pants. It is found from 900-5,000 feet in elevation in the Smokies. Dutchman’s Britches are known to grow along the trail of Porters Creek, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, and the Chimneys and can be found from April through May.
The Greeks named the Crested Dwarf Iris for their goddess of the rainbow. The pale-to-deep purple flower is divided into 6 parts. The 3 petals are narrow and arching, while the 3 petal-like sepals are broader, curve downward, streaked with purple, and are crested with white to yellow ridges. It is widely distributed at lower elevations of the Smokies. This beautiful flower brightens up the roadsides and trails of the Smokies and you can see the Dwarf Iris along the Roaring Fork Nature Trail and Porter’s Creek during April to May. The Iris is the Tennessee State Flower.
Fairy Wand is a most descriptive name for this interesting plant. A wand-like stem often dropping at the tip, arises from a basal cluster of leaves and has a densely packed, elongated terminal cluster of tiny white flowers. This flower can be found in several sections of the Smokies up to 2,500 feet in elevation. This lily is rather uncommon and it grows along the Cades Cove Road and School House Gap Trail during May to July.
Fire Pink is one of the brightest and most conspicuous wildflowers found blooming in the Great Smoky Mountains. Look for hummingbirds around this brilliant bright red, 1 to 2 foot beauty, as they are one of these flower’s primary pollinators. They grow around dry rocky conditions, open woods and thickets, and can be found on Chestnut Top Trail within the first half mile of the trail. The Fire Pink is one of the longer-lasting flowers, blooming from April through June.
This highly popular Flame Azalea occurs as scattered plants and groups throughout the park; a deciduous shrub with terminal clusters of tubular, vase-shaped, orange, red, and yellow flowers. Dramatic masses of Hybrid Azaleas can be seen in dry open woods and mountain balds and bloom from April to July, depending on the elevation.
As the second common name suggests, Foamflower has often been confused with Miterwort, though they are not at all familiar. Another plant sometimes confused with Foamflower is Alumroot. The raceme of white – sometimes pink – flowers grows on leafless stalks, 6 to 12 inches tall. The flowers have 5 petals, and 10 long stamens that protrude beyond the petals. You can find the Foamflower in rich woods throughout the Smokies during April through June.
The trumpet -shaped flowers, red outside and a brilliant yellow inside, are in a narrow one-sided curving terminal cluster. This plant, is rare in the Great Smokies, occurs only in limestone soils around the edges of the park. No other species of the Logania family, which is the source of strychnine, is in the Park. It can be seen on the Rich Mountain Road near the Park border and White Oak Sinks Trail during the month of June.
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.
Many people think the green, white, or purple sheath with a pulpit that surrounds and covers “Jack” is the plants flower. The sheath is just a leaf bract, in order to see the diminutive flower, you need to lift up the hood and look inside. They are clustered around Jack’s base. The actual flower is hard to find on this plant. The Jack-In-The-Pulpit grows from twelve to thirty six inches and can be found in damp, moist woodlands in the lower elevations. They can be found along Porter’s Creek, Chestnut Top and School House Gap Trail during March through June.
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.
The most abundant of the Trilliums of the Great Smoky Mountains. This is one of the most beautiful. Its is a spectacular treat throughout the park. It is the most commonly grown trilliums. The big, bell shaped white flower, which usually turns to a delicate pink with age, is on a stem 10 to 15 inches high. Trilliums when started from seed, takes 6-8 years to have their first bloom. The Large Flowered Trillium can be mistaken for Catesby’s Trillium. The Large Flowered Trillium can be found in wooded slopes from 1,000 to 3,500 feet in elevation. The large Flowered Trillium can be found throughout the park and along Porter’s Creek, Chestnut Top Trail, from April through June.
The rare tall larkspur, grows to heights of 2 to 6 feet, has fewer lobes in the leaves and blooms in the summer. This plant bluish purple flowers with 5 petals, the upper sepal extending backwards into an upright spur. The 4 petals are very small, with 2 of them extending into the spur formed by the sepals. The leaves are mostly basal, palmate, and divided into 5 to 7 irregular segments. This flower can be found in rich woods throughout in late March to early May.
Its arrow-shaped leaves and fleshy jug-shaped calyx-a flower without petals, gives this plant a unique appeal. The thick, evergreen leaves are a familiar sight on wooded slopes up to 3,000 feet. Often hidden by the leaves, the interesting jugs occur at ground level. The jugs are purplish brown and less than an inch long. You can find them along Porter’s Creek, schoolhouse Gap Trail, and Sugarlands Nature Trail, during May.
Lousewort is one of the oddest-looking flowers to be found in the Smokies. The three-inch quarter flowers are composed of two petals that join together in tubular fashion. The upper lip is longer, has two, minute teeth, and arches downward over the shorter lower lip, which has three lobes. The flower can be yellow or red, or a combination of both colors. You can find Lousewort in elevations up to 3,500 feet in elevation along the trials of Roaring Fork Nature Trail, Baskin Falls Trail, and the Blue Ridge parkway during April through June.
Mayapple makes its appearance in March, about the same time of the Bloodroot. A single, waxy, nodding, white flower grows from the middle of the fork of two leaves. Rising in height to about one foot, the two umbrellas like toothed leaves are divided into five to seven lobes. Colonies of 50 to 100 or more plants grow in open woods and on road shoulders up to 2,500 feet in elevation. Plants with only one leaf do not bear flowers. The Mayapple may be found along Porter’s Creek, School House Gap, and Chestnut Top from April to June.
In a season rife with showy blossoms, there is no doubt that the Trilliums are some of springtime’s most flamboyant flowers. One of the approximately 9 trilliums of the Great Smokies. Following the fashion of the Lily Family, a grouping that is well known for its ostentatiousness. With its splash of pink and its crinkled edged petals have an inverted pink V at their base from which emanates noticeable pink veins. Three green sepals grow in a whole immediately below the base. The painted Trillium may just be the most outstanding of its genus. Painted Trillium may be found on moist, shaped slopes from 3,000 to 6,500 feet in elevation along the trail of Alum Cave to Mt. LeConte, and Clingmans Dome from April to June.
The Lady of the mountains, the exotic structure of the Pink Lady’s Slipper, also known as Moccasin Flower. The Pink Lady’s Slipper is designed to attract certain pollinators. This is the most widespread of the Lady’s Slipper. The upper two petals are long and slender and range from yellow-green to purple-brown. It is the other petal that makes this plant so distinctive. It is one to three inches long, bulbous in shape, richly pink, marked in a darker pink to red veins, and it folds to a deep cleft in the middle. Generally rare, this orchid is locally abundant in a few Great Smokies locations below 3,000 feet in elevation. You can find this exotic flower along Schoolhouse Gap Trail to White Oak Sinks during April to May.
Robins Plantain is a blooming species of the sunflower. The flowerheads are 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide and have as many as 50 very thin, violet or pink, rays surrounding a flat, yellow central disc. The flower grows 6 to 20 inches tall on a hollow stem. The Robins Plantain can be found in rich woods, roadsides throughout the park. You can find Robin’s Plantain along the Porter’s Creek Trail during March through June.
A member of the Buttercup Family. With one to three blossoms rising from the main stem, the one-inch-wide flowers have five to ten, white to pinkish sepals. Rue Anemone has long, thin stems tremble in the slightest of winds-prompting its other common name honors the Greek God of wind. Another legend states that these flowers developed from the goddess of love, Venus, when her tears fell upon the ground as she wept over the death of Adonis, her lover. Rue Anemone is often found growing around roots of trees intermixed with blossoms of Wood Anemone on wooded slopes up to 3,000 feet in elevation. It blooms along Porters Creek, Chestnut Top Trail, from March to May.
It’s often cultivated. Bees, the chief pollinators. The plant was far more abundant during the days of the prairie settlers, who called it Prairie Pointers. Nodding flowers with strongly backward pointing petals are in flat-topped clusters. Can be found in open woods and meadows during April through June
This violet flower grows in a terminal cluster, each having three rounded petals, from which spring six hairy stamens of yellowish gold. The Spiderwort stands 12 to 32 inches tall and has leaves reminiscent of grass. It can be found in the low to mid elevations of the park, and along the trail of White Oak Sinks. The flowers take on various shades of blue, and appearing in June to July
This attractive, dainty and beautiful spring flower in the Smokies is a decidedly southern plant. It grows in abundance in large colonies that cover an entire hillside and looks as if someone has come along and spread confetti throughout the forest. Be sure to view the Phacelia that blooms along Porters Creek during the spring. It is one of the most beautiful sites you will find in the Smokies. A valley covered with Phacelia, as if it had snowed a blank of flowers.
The small white flowers, on fleshly plants 4 to 5 inches tall and with whorled, ovate leaves creep along the ground and over boulders, often forming large colonies along stream banks, in moist woods and large rocks in elevations up to 2,500 feet in elevation. Arranged in a floral spray usually along three often curving horizontal shaped flowers has five, white narrow petals. It can be seen along the trails of Chestnut Top, and Little River Road. Stonecrop blooms during April throughout June.
A parasite upon the roots of trees, especially oaks, Squaw-root has amazingly small yellow flowers. The small half-inch, yellowish to tan flowers have two lips, with the upper one foaming a hood over a three lobed spreading lower lip. Ranging in height from 4 to 9 inches, the brown colored plant, resembles a slender pine cone. It is rather uncommon, widely distributed in Oak Forest below 4,500 feet in elevation. It can be seen along the trails of Laurel Falls, and Chestnut Top, from April to June.
“Do Not Touch” seems to be the message from teasel, as every part of the plant is prickly. The egg shaped flower head holds its shape long after the tiny flowers have bloomed, and can be seen standing in the fields well into the winter months. Tiny lavender or nearly white flowers grow between the spines beginning as a band in the middle of the flower-head and expanding up and down. Stiff, pointed bracts beneath the flower-head may grow upward to exceed the length of the flower-head. The Stem stands 2 to 10 feet in height. It can be found in meadows, during July trough October.
This beautiful nodding, one and half inch, yellow flower has six petals and sepals that bend in a graceful backward curve. The mottling of the 6 to 8 inch leaves suggests the speckled trout of the mountain streams. Trout Lily can often be found as high as 6,000 feet in elevation. The Trout Lily can be found along the trails of Porter Creek, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, and Roaring Fork Motor Trail from March through May.
This erotic plant has smooth gray-green foliage and nodding clusters of pink buds that open into light blue trumpet-shaped flowers. When it grows in masses, this species makes for a spectacular show. This flower can be found in moist woods, during March to June.
This is one of the most common Trilliums. The solitary, nodding flower, with an unpleasant odor, rises on a stalk above a whorl of 3 broadly ovate, diamond shaped leaves. The maroon or reddish-purple flower of this trillium adds interest to the trail sides in moist woods of the high Smokies. It grows along the trails of Spruce Falls, and Indian Gap, during April throughout June.
The Wild Geranium is pink to purplish, upright, round-petaled flower that has five sepals, ten stamens and one pistil. They grow in loose clusters of two to five. They are found in low to mid elevations up to 3,500 feet in elevation in the park and are commonly found in moist woodlands and coves. The Wild Geranium can be found along the trail at Porters Creek, in Greenbriar during April through June.
The flower is easily seen because it appears so late in the year; one might ask if this is really the last plant of the season to bloom, or perhaps the first for the next season. This tall autumn flowering shrub has clusters of spidery, yellow flowers on the leaf or on naked branches from which the leaves have fallen. Witch Hazel can be found along the trails of Porter’s Creek and Bud Ogle Nature Trail.
Variety is something that is never lacking in Trilliums. Although most species have a primary color for identification, variations occur in nearly all of them. Yellow Trillium is commonly found in the lower elevations of the Smokies. You can find yellow trillium in rich woods along the roadsides, and on many of the trails in the Smokies during April through May.