The Joy of Spring Wildflowers!
A Walk in the Woods - by D. Talbot
One of the best things about Springtime in East Tennessee is the multitude of beauty that can be found on any one of the dozens of hiking trails in the Smokies. I recently hiked Porter’s Creek, a hike that is approximately 4 miles roundtrip from the trailhead at Greenbrier Road to Fern Branch Falls and back. There is a lot of history along this trail reminding us of families who settled in this area in the early 1800s, so it’s an interesting trail as well as a fairly easy one to navigate. On this particular day, Mother Nature seemed to be as excited about warmer weather as I was. Little signs of Spring were scattered throughout the woods and along the trail, and as I meandered my way up the path, I was delighted to see each of the beautiful Spring wildflowers that makes the Smokies such a special place.
It was a cool but gloriously beautiful March day as I began my journey along Porter’s Creek. Before too many steps, I noticed nature’s beauty in the form of early Spring flowers, tender ferns, and the softest mosses. One of the first flowers I saw was the tiny, white Rue Anemone, which can easily be confused with the more common Wood Anemone. A simple way to tell the diﬀerence is to count the petals. If there are only 5 petals, it will always be a wood anemone. If there are 6 or more petals, it is surely the Rue Anemone. Delicate petals seemed to be reaching for the sun and this little darling just made me smile.
A little further down the trail I spotted Yellow Trillium, sometimes called wood lily. It was not yet in bloom but identified by it’s splotchy leaves. The blooms are yellow and have a faint lemon fragrance. Trillium is fairly common in the Smokies and there are many varieties blooming at various times during the Spring, but this tiny new plant, so fresh and tender, seemed to be promising warmer weather soon. (I hope to return to this area again in late April to catch the painted trillium in bloom.)
I was not familiar with White Fringed Phacelia, another dainty white beauty, that popped up in several places along the trail. These little caps of fringe were so thick in places, I thought they were small piles of snow! According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, its striking, fringed petals characterize this plant as the Spring Wildflower of The Great Smoky Mountains. How fun it is to learn about a new flower!
Wild Geranium is a perennial wildflower also native to The Smoky Mountains, and unlike many other Spring wildflowers, it retains its rich green foliage long after the blooms have withered. The flowers I saw along the Porter’s Creek Trail were medium to deep purple, but you will also see various shades of pinks. These plants appeared to be showing out among all the small white wildflowers that were abundant on the trail.
But the wildflower I was most excited to see was the Dutchman’s-Breeches which was well hidden behind a large boulder beside the trail. The common name “Dutchman's breeches” derives from the white flowers that look like white breeches. This plant is a true Spring woodland species, blooming in early April and going dormant mid-May. (and I saw it in early March!) It’s a good thing Dutchman’s- Breeches is a woodland flower and not found in pastures because another common name, “Little Blue Staggers” comes from it’s ability to induce drunken staggering when cattle graze on it due to toxic and narcotic substances found in the plant! I’ve never seen this flower in the wild before, so I left Porter’s Creek Trail thrilled that Mother Nature had shared one of her special treasures with me!
Whether you have been in this area for a while or you’re new to Blount County, one of the most fun and rewarding days you will ever have is a Springtime hike in the Smoky Mountains. Mother Nature sure likes this place - she’s left so many little gifts along the Smoky Mountain trails, I can’t wait to go on another walk in the woods - soon!