As a world-renowned preserve of wildflower diversity, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains more than 1,500 different kinds of flowering plants, more than any other national park in North America. The park is also known as the "Wildflower National Park," with flowers in bloom throughout the entire year. The year begins with ephemerals in the spring. These plants get their name from the fact that they appear above ground only in late winter and early spring. They flower, fruit, and die back within about 2 months. The ephemerals emerge February to April, and are gone by May or June. These plants include lady slipper orchids, fire pink, crested dwarf iris, columbine, phacelia, bleeding heart, jack-in-the-pulpit, violets, and 10 different species of trillium among many others.
The summer months bring pink turtleheads, red cardinal flowers, Turk's cap lily, bee-balm, jewel weed, small purple-fringed orchids, black-eyed susans, butterfly-weed, and many more. Flame azaleas appear at low and mid-elevations in April and May, and white and pink flowers of mountain laurel bloom in early May until June. Catawba rhododendrons reach peak bloom in June at higher elevations, while Rosebay rhododendron blooms in June at lower elevations and mid-elevations in July. Wide-leaved sunflowers, goldenrod, mountain gentian, tall ironweed, monk's hood, several varieties of asters, and coneflowers begin to bloom by late summer and through autumn.
Shrubs and trees bloom year-round, with brilliant red flowers of red maples appearing from February to April. Showy trees, like silverbell, serviceberry, flowering dogwood, Fraser magnolia, tuliptree, and red bud follow shortly after. Sourwood, a tree prized for the honey produced by bees from its small, bell-shape white flowers, starts to bloom in late summer. Late fall and winter offer the yellow flowers of witch-hazel, blooming from October to January. Small, bright yellow flowers of spicebush start to bloom in February and are soon joined by dog hobble, flame azalea, and sweetshrub.
Photo: Wollwerth Imagery/Fotolia
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