Friday, May 7, 2010

Park Ranger Favorites – Wildflowers

Wildflowers are popping up in a spectacular show all through the Southern Appalachians and the National Parks that protect one of the most diverse plant populations in the world. There are so many different species of wildflowers that entire books are written and illustrated to describe just a fraction of the total number of native flowering plants. With such variety available, each fan has adopted their favorite plants. After working for 27 years as a park ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway, here are a few of mine that you can now find in bloom.

Trillium – This wildflower seems quite simple when first found, but when examined more closely it reveals a complex symmetry that always draws my attention. The plant is well named for tri having the root meaning of three is quite descriptive of this low growing plant that can cover some forest floors like a brightly colored carpet. When in bloom during May every plant has three pedals and layers of three leaves. Colors vary from a deep pink to a faded almost white. Although there are several species of this showy plant, the most prevalent species I have seen is the painted trillium. They generally bloom from April to June and I viewed several impressive displays in the mountains this week.

Azalea – There are two species of native azaleas found in the Southern Appalachians. The one that is bright pink is known as pinxter flower. My favorite and much less seen is the orange flame azalea. Both of these plants are in full bloom now on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

If you stop and take the time to hike a trail anywhere in the Southern Appalachians within the next few weeks, walk slowly, look around you, and you may be greeted with a beautiful gift of nature.

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