Go On a Wildflower Hunt

By Brad Nottingham

With the mountains blooming with wildflowers, late spring is the perfect time to test your identification skills. There are flowers to be found on nearly every trail whether you prefer hiking in the Smokies, Pisgah National Forest, or elsewhere.

These Pink Shell Azaleas were wildflower beauties discovered along the grassy edge of the BRP, after heading west from its Junction with 276. These were spotted about halfway between that junction and the Graveyard Fields trail head area. I identified these with the help of the following Google link:

Southern Appalachian Wildflower Photo Gallery by Rich Stevenson. (Clicking that and volumes of well-photographed wildflowers display for you in all their glory).
Stevenson has photographed an amazing array of wildflowers and identified them in his gallery. However, to be safe, I verified the Pink Shell Azaleas with Wilma T. Durpo, local Waynesville outdoorswoman and wildflower connoisseur. (www.WilmaDurpo.com). She is a joy to connect with and has been very responsive.
Wilma was also the only source that I could find that had the true name of my photographed Bluets: “Quaker Ladies”. That name makes me smile. These, plus the white Wild Strawberries plus the more difficult to identify Violet (Viola sororia) were also ID’d by Wilma, who usually leads a lazy wildflower hike from time to time. If you see violets centered with a splash of yellow, they are “Tassel Rue” however you can narrow down your violet variations by pulling up Rich Stevenson’s photography site: Southern Appalachian Wildflower Photo Gallery.
All the flowers photographed (except the Azaleas) were discovered along the wildflower-laden trail at the end of the final parking lot at the terminus of FS816 Spur Road. (Tennent Mountain area trail zone). This popular spur road leading off of the Blue Ridge Parkway starts approximately 2.5 miles east of where 215 intersects with the Parkway. The foot trail does track through Black Bear habitat, so it isn’t a foolish idea to have some bear deterrent spray or standard mace on hand, I suppose. (We just had a little copper bell on our day pack.)
The parking lot trailhead trends slightly downhill NE-ward, crossing several trickling streams and cricks, which contribute to the choice wildflower spotting zones. There is a beautiful dark forest with very little understory that eventually beckons to your left, which is shaded and peaceful, if the sun gets hot.
If you would like to obtain a wildflower book, you might like Wildflowers of Blue Ridge by Leonard M. Adkins. VirtualBlueRidge.com is another good explore.
A little personal note from experience: It’s so tempting to pluck a small wildflower sample of each to tote back, but try to resist that temptation. Samples will wilt amazingly fast in your car, (like they know they’ve been kidnapped) so treasuring them ‘in situ’, and capturing them with pixels is far more rewarding. The pollinators will be happier too.
Brad Nottingham is an avid outdoorsman, hiker, and lover of nature. He resides in Waynesville and writes for Mountaineer Publishing.
Want to go?
Ever wondered what the name of wildflower was that you saw on your last hike? Wish that you knew more about the plants that grow around you? Want to be more connected to nature and to the places and plants that you love? 
Guests are invited to join Bigelow’s Botanical Excursions for a series of Summer Wildflower Walks where they can learn the stories of the plants; their many names, benefits, uses; and their relationship to each other, the forest, and to everyone.

Have fun learning about the Wildflowers of Southern Appalachia with guide Adam Bigelow, in this six-week course. Participants will learn basic techniques for identifying wildflowers using ID Guides and keys and put this knowledge into practice in the field while gently walking among the flowers. The course is open to anyone who wants to know what is blooming all around them. The six-week class meets every Monday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., meeting at different locations in the woods.

Rain days will be on weekend afternoons. The class runs from June 19 through July 24. Cost is $150 for the series, or you can join us for any single hike $40/day. For more information or to register, please contact Adam Bigelow bigelownc@gmail.com and find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BigelowsBotanicalExcursions. The class is capped at 15 people, so book now.