Unlike Catawba rhododendrons, which are often admired on mountain peaks and balds, the rosebay rhododendron (illustrated above) loves the acidic soil of cove forests. One of the hardiest and largest rhododendrons, these “rhodies,” as they’re often called, frequently form dense thickets, locally known as “laurel hells.” So, yeah. Stay on the trail.
This plant’s broad, heart-shaped green leaves are so iconic that people have been known to poach them for floral arrangements. In early summer, galax also shoots out white, spear-like flowers that are hard to miss — that is, if the plant’s distinctive, earthy aroma doesn’t catch your attention first.
This vibrant flower does share certain similarities with our beloved state bird. A familiar bloom in Europe, its name was already in use by 1629, most likely a nod to the color of the vestments worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.
Like a purple torch in the meadow, these bright flowers atop their tall stems add drama to the landscape. The monarch butterfly-friendly blooms may look delicate, but their stems are rugged and their roots are difficult to dig up. Hence the imposing name.
From a distance, these clusters of white blooms look like pearls and have a faint medicinal fragrance. Which is only fitting, since the plant has long been used to heal both people and animals. The leaves contain tannin, which is believed to aid in the treatment of burns — Native American tribes made a thick paste with the leaves and used the ashes of burned leaves to treat their horses’ sore backs.
These days, you’re just as likely to see this classic sun-loving flower in your neighbor’s backyard as you are to see it in the wild. A traditional Native American medicinal herb, black-eyed Susans are believed to be a remedy for, among other things, fevers, colds, swelling, and snake bites. But we’ll just settle for a Mason jar full of the blooms.
True sourwood honey, with its rich, spicy flavor and caramel texture, is prized by honey purists worldwide. But bees can only make sourwood honey during a short summer window, and its harvest is affected by weather fluctuations. In the Appalachian Mountains, the bell-shaped white flowers that bloom for some 25 days in summer are sometimes called “angel fingers.”
With its bright fragrance and pretty pink, red, or white colors, bee balm is a favorite of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and — yes — hikers. Its citrus scent (one of its many nicknames is bergamot, as in bergamot orange) belies the fact that this wildflower is part of the mint family, with a long history of medicinal uses: Many Native American tribes recognized the plant’s antiseptic properties and used it in poultices to treat skin infections and minor wounds.
Wildflower Walks & Hikes
North Carolina’s mountains are one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, so when outdoor author Jim Parham decided to write a guide to the area’s wealth of blooms, he had his work cut out for him. Included in his book are 59 different hiking routes, habitat descriptions, tips on peak bloom periods, and a wildflower identification checklist. You might end up on top of a grassy bald or gazing at a waterfall, but one goal remains: Find the flowers.