Each day I go out for a hike, I find more and more wildflowers blooming. I love this time of year when everything starts to sprout and turn green. This blog post is going to tell you about some of the wildflowers you can see on the trail, and some of the best spots to see them. These are just a few of the main ones on the trail, but there are so many different wildflowers. Get out there and see them for yourself!
Bloodroot – This flower seems to be one of the first that pops out of the ground. You can find it almost anywhere on the trail in Georgia. Bloodroot is named for its popular red natural dye used by Native American artists. A break in the surface of the plant, especially the roots, reveals a reddish sap which can be used as a dye.
Violets – The Common Violet is the most popular. It is usually purple and has more of a round leaf. There is also the Halberd Leaf Violet, which has more of a heart shaped leaf, and yellow flowers.
Dwarf Crested Iris – These beautiful purple flowers like to grow in moist areas, maybe near a creek or stream. The sepals of the its blue-violet flowers are distinctly marked with a central yellow or white, purple striped band. Go on a hike from Three Forks to Long Creek Falls on the Appalachian Trail. It follows the stream and you are sure to see this flower.
Trout Lily – These flowers are known for their “trout like” leaves. They are speckled like a trout and grow in moist areas. The flower is small and yellow. Petals and sepals are bent backwards exposing six brown stamens inside. There are a ton by the Springer Mountain shelter water source. Go for a hike up to the start of the Appalachian Trail and check them out. Or find another wet area, they will likely be there.
Star Chickweed – These tiny white flowers bloom in a star like shape and they have brownish-red stamens that come out from the center. I saw some of these just beginning up Blood Mountain and there are more all along the trail.
Mayapple – You will likely see these leaves early in the season, but the flowers don’t bloom till later on. People like to refer to them as “Gnome Umbrellas” because of the leaves. The females have two leaves with a single flower growing in the axil of the leaves. A great spot to see fields of these flowers is on the Approach Trail from Woody Knob to the base of Springer Mountain. They grow mostly in damp, open woods, and along lower ridges.
Foam Flower – Long, slender stamens give spikes of white flowers a frothy appearance. They grow in shady, moist areas. They can be found in many areas along the trail. I’ve noticed them on the section from Neel’s Gap to Tesnatee Gap, as well as going down into Low Gap.
Trillium – Trillium is the most well-known flower on the trail. There are many kinds of Trillium. The characteristics of these flowers include three leaves, and three flower petals. These flowers are found everywhere. The pictures below will show you the different kinds so you can properly identify the flowers.
Bluets – These tiny blue flowers grow at higher elevations, usually on the tops of mountains or ridges.
Pink and Yellow Lady Slipper – the Pink Lady Slipper is one of the largest native Orchids and is found both in low, sandy woods and in higher, rocky woods of mountains. A great area to find a bunch is on the Hike Inn Trail in Amicalola Falls State Park. About one mile from the Inn are clusters of them near the creek. The Yellow Lady Slipper is less common in the Appalachians. I saw one close to Chattahoochee Gap on the AT, but they are considered rare. They are beautiful orchids and look like little slippers!
Fire Pink – This flower blooms in May or even June down here in Georgia. A common name for members of this genus is Catchfly, which refers to the sticky hairs or exudates which trap insects. It is bright red and has five petals. I saw a bunch hiking from Gooch Gap to Woody Gap.
Eastern Red Columbine – This beautiful woodland wildflower has showy, drooping, bell-like flowers equipped with distinctly backward-pointing tubes, similar to the garden Columbines. These tubes, or spurs, contain nectar that attracts long-tongued insects and hummingbirds especially adapted for reaching the sweet secretion. It is reported that Native Americans rubbed the crushed seeds on the hands of men as a love charm. Just two weeks ago, I saw the leaves of these all along Sassafras Mountain, just south of Cooper Gap. They will likely bloom in May and June.
Spiderwort – Spiderwort is a large but dainty perennial with long, bright-green, narrow leaves. The thick clump of slender, branched stalks are topped by groups of blue or purplish, three-petaled flowers. Spiderworts are so named because the angular leaf arrangement suggests a squatting spider. Again, hiking from Gooch Gap to Woody Gap is a great place to find this flower.
Jack in the Pulpit – One to two large, glossy leaves, divided into three leaflets, rise on their own stems 1-3 ft. The intriguing blossom of this woodland perennial occurs on a separate stalk at the same height as the leaves. It is a large, cylindrical, hooded flower, green in color with brown stripes. Distinctive Jack-in-the-pulpit formation grows beneath large leaves. I only saw one of these last season on the stretch of trail from Low Gap, to Chattahoochee Gap. The Smoky Mountains have more in abundance.
Galax – You have likely seen this evergreen plant along the side of the trail before. The leaves are round and they turn brown in the winter. The plant is said to have a pungent smell. The flower blooms in early – late summer and is a tall stalk of little white flowers.
These flowers are also all around the trail, but I did not have any personal pictures of these. Here is a collage of the flowers. Be sure to look for them on trail!
Rhododendron vs. Mountain Laurel
Often mistaken for one another, Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron are flowering, evergreen shrubs that share more similarities than differences. These plants are often found growing side-by-side in wooded, mountainous areas throughout the eastern United State. To tell them apart without their flowers, look at the leaves. Rhododendron’s dark bluish-green leaves are thick and leathery and range in size from 4 to 14 inches long. Its oblong-shaped leaves are narrow at the base, wide in the middle and rounded at the end. In cold weather or times of drought, rhododendron’s leaves roll up into tight cylinders. The underside of the leaf is pale green or rusty brown. Mountain laurel has elliptical-shaped leaves with pointed tips. Leaves are glossy yellow-green to dark green and generally smaller than rhododendron’s, about 2 to 5 inches long.
Mountain Laurel flowers are either white or pink flowers, with a red stripe encircling the center. The flower petals are fused together to form small cups. Rhododendron flowers can range from pink, to purple, to white, but in Georgia they will usually be pink. Check out the pictures below to see the differences between the two.
There are many other flowers, these are just some of the main ones I’ve seen along the trail in Georgia. If you want to learn more, you should check out the “National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Wildflowers,” which we have in the store. We have several other wildflower guides you can take on your wildflower walk. Wildflower.org is a great resource for checking out wildflowers. Take a lot of pictures while you’re out there, then do the research when you’re off trail. Be sure to look at the flower, leaves, and any other characteristics that can help you identify the flower. Stop by the store to show us your wildflowers pictures, we are always happy to talk about nature!