High Country Wildflowers Entering Full Bloom
The High Country is bursting with color as the wildflower season enters its full bloom. The region boasts more than 100 different species of wildflowers, and some of the best viewing of the year is happening now along the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are fields of stunning dense blazing stars, black-eyed Susans, and the iconic summer bloomer, Turk’s cap lilies. Their impact on the local ecosystem is dramatic as well, providing food for bees, butterflies and migratory birds, and host sites for Monarch butterfly caterpillars.
This weekend, Appalachian State University Biology Professor Annkatrin Rose will lead wildflower Boone in Bloom hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway. They’re free and open to the public. She spoke with WFDD’s David Ford.
On the role of wildflowers in the ecosystem:
They’re hugely important for the pollinators—a lot of butterflies and bees. Sometimes there are specialized interactions with bees that are specialized for certain flowers. And then when we get into fall—our fall bloomers like the golden rods and all these things we see in September and October. Those are very important for migratory butterflies like the Monarchs, but also for birds like the hummingbirds when they migrate. They basically depend on those flowers in the fall to fuel their migration.
On touring Elk Knob and Doughton Park:
This weekend, if you drive along the [Blue Ridge] Parkway you might see some of the sourwood trees in bloom, which is where the sourwood honey is coming from that the bees are collecting right now. And then on the meadows along the parkway, there’s a lot of milkweed in bloom right now. And that’s the host plant for the Monarch caterpillars. So, what I’ll be looking for is not just the flowers, but trying to find the caterpillars from those plants. Then we have a lot of summer bloomers like black-eyed Susan and blazing star. That’s what I’ll be looking for at Doughton Park this weekend. There’s actually another species of blazing star that blooms further up on the mountain that’s an endangered species—you would find that up on Grandfather Mountain. And along the parkway I’ve seen a lot of the Turk’s cap lilies in bloom right now, which is another very iconic summer bloomer in that region.
On words of caution for High Country wildflower seekers:
Well, along the parkway, most of the rules deal with conservation of those flowers. So, you’re not supposed to dig or pick or damage any of those plants along the parkway. And what I will be doing is trying to protect myself from ticks because those are very bad this year. If I go out into the meadows to look for wildflowers [I’ll be] wearing long pants and closed shoes, and maybe spraying some repellant onto your clothes might help. So, definitely check yourself for ticks after you go out looking for butterflies and flowers.
There are two wildflower hikes coming up this weekend. A ranger-guided tour will take place at Elk Knob State Park on Saturday at 2 p.m. Later that afternoon, Rose will meet with hikers at Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway at 5 p.m.