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Wildflowers of the Appalachian Trail AND Wildfowers of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains

Wildflowers of the Appalachian Trail

"From a practical standpoint, this book is a field identification guide to the flora of the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail--and an excellent one at that. But it is much more than a guidebook. It is a work of art and a feast for the eyes. Wildflowers of the Appalachian Trail is designed with grace and elegance and filled with exquisite, full-page color photographs. It is rare to find a guidebook where every photograph is perfect, but this is one. If you're traveling or hiking the Appalachian country, this is one book you don't want to be without."

--National Outdoor Book Award

"The big, colorful photos are not only beautiful, but give a clear picture for matching while hiking down the trail. Along with interesting tidbits of information, this book is colorful, educational, and an easy reference. So often on a hike we're only interested in getting from one point to another. Your book does so much to encourage us to stop and smell the flowers.

--Lori Ando, Secretary/Trail Maintenance Chair Old Dominion Appalachianb Trail Club


From the Introduction:

It has been nearly two decades since I first set foot on the Appalachian Trail. As I stepped forth from Springer Mountain, Georgia on that early spring day, I was ready to revel in the grand scenery of the mountains, the far-off vistas, the roaring waterfalls, the crimson-gold sunsets. I might occasionally stop to taste a wild strawberry or enjoy a particularly beautiful blossom, but I had little interest in the world at my feet and could have counted all the flowers I knew by name on the fingers of my hands.

Yet, as the miles drew me northward, I could not ignore the attractive pink petals of the Spring Beauty flowers delivering the promise of warmer days to come. It seemed that everywhere I looked the tiny Bluets spread out in lengthy carpets along the edges of the trail, mirroring the clarity of the sky above me, while the Flame Azalea reflected the sunsets of which I was so fond. How could I have been so ignorant of such an exquisite element of the Appalachian Trail? How could I have always been questing after the big picture, while overlooking the smaller elements that make up the whole? It was time to learn more about this natural world into which I was being permitted to become a part of.

TRAILING ARBUTUS (Epigaea repens)
FLOWER: The white to pink flowers--which grow in little clusters from the ends of the stem or out of the leaf axils--are only about one half inch long, have five spreading lobes, and are well known for their strong fragrance.
AVERAGE BLOOM SEASON: March to early June
LEAVES AND STEM: This is a trailing shrub whose woody stems are covered with fine hairs. The alternate, oblong, leathery leaves remain green throughout the year.
RANGE OF A.T. STATES: Georgia to Maine

As you huff and puff up a steep grade along a rocky hillside in late winter or early spring, you may notice that the air you are sucking in to provide the much-needed oxygen for your calf muscles suddenly becomes laden with a most wonderful perfume. It is time to drop your pack, take a break, and make a search for the source of this olfactory pleasure.

You may have to get down on hands and knees, brush away some forest litter, and lift up the evergreen leaves of the Trailing Arbutus in order to finally see its blossom. This Lilliputian flower's delightful scent almost led to its demise. In the early part of the twentieth century it was so highly prized for floral bouquets that commercial diggers nearly wiped out the country's entire native population. Unto this day it remains protected by law in many states in the hope that it will reestablish itself. Its sensitivity to disturbances by human activity, such as roadbuilding, logging, agriculture, or housing development, only exacerbates the problem.

Where it does grow, Trailing Arbutus sometimes forms dense mats, thanks to its horizontally-creeping woody stems. For the most part, the flowers are unisexual, with the males growing on separate stems and having a bit of a yellowish hue. It is believed that queen bumblebees, which are some of the first insects to emerge in the early spring, are the plant's chief pollinators. In a process known as mymecochory, ants--which are attracted to a sticky substance on the outside of the capsule--are a significant link in the dispersal of the seeds.

Some of the places along the AT you are likely to encounter Trailing Arbutus include: Between Deep Gap and Wallace Gap, and between Deer Park Mountain Shelter and Hot Springs in NC; the James River Face Wilderness and between Johns Hollow and Rocky Row Run in central VA; just north of the Undermountain Trail junction in Connecticut; and along Sherman Brook in Massachusetts.

STAR CHICKWEED (Stellaria pubera)
FLOWER: The five petals of the one half inch white flowers are so deeply cleft that it appears to have ten petals. Ten stamens rise above the petals in a ring.
LEAVES AND STEM: The oblong, three inch leaves grow stalkless on the upper part of the six to sixteen inch stem, while the lower leaves may have long stalks. The stems of the star chickweed have many weak, almost translucent branches with vertical lines of tiny hairs.
RANGE OF A.T. STATES: Georgia to New Jersey

Although it is now most appreciated for the beauty of its flower, Star Chickweed has been of great value through the centuries to birds, animals, and humans. Several species of birds find its seeds to be quite delectable (which accounts for one of its other common names, Birdseed), while grazing animals are drawn to it for its rich content of copper. The plant can still be found for sale in the early spring in some markets of Europe; when picked before the flowers develop, it is considered to be more tender than many other wild greens. Its raw leaves are added to salads and, when boiled, taste like fresh-cooked spinach. Because it is high in vitamins A and C, Star Chickweed was helpful in the treatment of scurvy. It has also been used as a poultice for abscesses and boils, and it was said that bathing in the water in which it has been boiled will reduce swelling.

While on the trail, you can use the Star Chickweed to help you predict the weather. According to folklore, the sun will be shining bright if the blossoms are spread out to their fullest. However, if they begin to close up, you had better get out the raingear, as precipitation will begin to fall within the next few hours.

Somewhat similar in appearance, Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) is found from Georgia to Maine, but its petals are shorter than its sepals. Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) has hairy, oval, sessile leaves that resemble mouse ears and a stem that is covered by sticky hairs. The petals and sepals of its flowers are about equal in length.

Some of the places along the AT you are likely to encounter one of the Chickweeds include: At the base of Amicalola Falls on the AT approach trail in GA; north of Angel's Rest in southwest VA; the side trail to Sunset Field and on The Priest in central VA; and south of Pocosin Fire Road in SNP.



Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains (SADLY NOW OUT OF PRINT, but can still be ordered as a used book)

“This book is a tribute to the author’s kinship with nature. It truly demonstrates his passion for the colorful treasures of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains." Butch Kelly, former natural history interpreter on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

From the Introduction
Wildflowers. There are few things in this world that can give human beings so much pleasure and beauty while requiring us to put forth so little effort to enjoy them. Great art can take years to create and you may have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to see it. Chefs may spend hours preparing a wonderfully presented meal, yet it might disappoint the taste buds.

It can take a concerted effort to observe birds or wildlife. You may need to purchase binoculars, journey to a specific site, be quiet and patient and, then, if you are lucky, you may get a brief glimpse of an animal or bird before it dashes into the undergrowth or takes wing into the sky.

Yet, you don’t have to spend any money on special equipment or travel to an exotic location to enjoy the wildflowers--which are always firmly rooted in place and won’t go scampering off when you approach. Just a short, easy walk in your local woods, park, or street where you live will reveal scores of flowers in a wondrous variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. If you don’t feel like walking, dozens of blossoms may be seen during a leisurely drive down a country lane or, for that matter, even while zipping down an interstate at a high rate of speed. For some of us, appreciating the wildflowers can involve nothing more than lounging on the living room couch and looking out the window to our front yard.

Those of us who visit or live in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains are especially blessed. For almost nowhere else in the world is there the lushness and variety of trees, flowers, shrubs, and other plants as there are to be found in these mountains. In the Great Smokies alone, there are more species growing than in all of Europe. Only in the South American rain forests is it possible to find a larger number of plants per acre than those that occur throughout the Blue Ridge.

Beyond just admiring their beauty, one of the best ways to appreciate the wildflowers is to learn something about them. How did they come by their common and scientific names? Why does one flower grow in bottomlands, while another is only found on lofty heights? What caused a plant to evolve into the shape we see today, and what birds and animals are attracted to it? What role has a plant played throughout history, and what has been its value in folkloric as well as modern medicine?

Upon learning all of these things, the greatest lesson will be the knowledge of how all things in life are interrelated, how what affects one thing affects all things, including us humans. Knowing this will instill a respect and love for the wonderful natural world that we have inherited, and an understanding of why we must work hard to protect and conserve what we will pass on to future generations. It was in this spirit that Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains was written and photographed. Go forth, see what there is to see, and learn what there is to learn. Happy wildflowering.

Cuscuta gronovii

FLOWER: The small (only one-eighth inch in size), bell-shaped, five lobed flowers grow in tight clusters along the orangish-yellow vine.
LEAVES AND STEM: Leaves are basically absent, being reduced to small scales upon the twisting vine.
BLOOM SEASON: August to October

The life of the Dodder Vine reads like the pages of a horror story. A mysterious seed is carried to a far away place by an unsuspecting bird, animal, or person, where it falls to the ground and germinates. Taking root, it sends up a shoot, which develops into a climbing vine that twists itself in tight coils around other plants. Containing no chlorophyll or leaves from which to produce food from sunlight, it sends out suckers that penetrate the flesh of its host plant, robbing its benefactor of needed nourishment. From here, it climbs onto additional plants, creating a tangle many feet long. Eventually, the roots and lower portions of the vine dry up and die, as it now parasitizes everything it needs from the other plants.

The vine received its species name for Johan (or Jan) Fredrik (or Frederich) Gronovius, the author of Flora Virginica, published in the mid-1700s. In bestowing this name, Linnaeus provided somewhat of a backhanded honor, for he considered Gronovius to be overly ambitious, stating that Cuscuta gronovii was “a climbing plant which grasps all other plants.”

Thriving primarily in moist areas of low ground, there are a number of other species of Dodder Vines found in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, but it is difficult to tell one from the other. Cuscuta gronovii, which has other common names such as Common Dodder, Love Vine, and Love-In-A Tangle, grows on a variety of host plants, while Beaked Dodder (Cuscuta rostrata) is almost always found twisted around Blackberry bushes.

Some places you may encounter one of the Dodder Vines include: Cades Cove Loop Road and Kanati Fork Trail in GSMNP; and BRP mileposts 303.7 and 304.7.