Programs and Activities

Forest Flower Power

To research for this post, I took myself on my favorite hike in Pisgah National Forest. The first mile or so is flat, meandering along and across Cove Creek. Then, rather abruptly, the trail inclines. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll notice the ascending elevation presents different vegetation from that of the creek bed. That’s why I have done this hike dozens of times; each time, I discover a new character of the forest, plant or animal, that I wasn’t aware of before. This particular “research hike,” made for one of the most memorable outdoor experiences I’ve ever had.

In order to thoroughly appreciate a hike in this woods this time of year, you need to come prepared for a full-sensory experience. I’m telling you, the air smells like warm honey. You can hear the singing of a dozen bird species in all directions. The brisk and dry winter air has been replaced with a balmy breeze. And the colors. A hundred shades of green from the forest floor to the top of the canopy, interrupted by a dazzling display of multi-colored flowers. If you can manage to get the trail to yourself, simply being silently present in such a place at this time is immersion-therapy.

I cannot overstate that the month of May is the veritable golden hour of the southern Appalachian forest. Whether you do a hike that you’ve done before, or choose a completely new one, my advice is to allot yourself more time than usual. Make this your once-a-year traipse through the woods, pausing to observe every delightful nuance that remotely sparks your interest. And yes, you really really should stop to smell the flowers.

Tips for responsible flower-peeping:

You love flowers, I love flowers, and it turns out, so do the pollinators. Here are some things to keep in mind on your floral journey:

  1. Stay on the path.
    • It’s the idea that if just you are the one to stray from the path to scope out a plant, it’s not a big deal. But imagine if every person after you were to do the same? Social paths or trails are haphazardly made by hikers who depart from the main trail. This may be to avoid a puddle, transect a switchback, or simply see something cool. While we highly condone seeing cool things on hikes, the forging of a social path (even if accidental) degrades the habitat surrounding the trail. If a closer view of a particular flower is what you’re after, chances are high that you’ll eventually see the same species closer to the trail. 
  2. Don’t pick anything. 
    • See the flowers, smell the flowers, photograph the flowers, but PLEASE let them continue serving their purpose for the plant. Keeping in mind the rule of accumulation: one flower gone from the forest won’t hurt anything, but imagine if everyone did the same? 
  3. Watch your step.
    • OK, so when I did this flower hike, my head was on a swivel. I was looking up into the canopy, down around my feet, and out along the undergrowth. Be mindful that spring is also when our danger noodle (snake) friends awaken from their wintery slumber (See previous post [link]). They are active and looking for food. Additionally, this is the time of year when baby plants are emerging from the topsoil. Prioritize avoiding snakes and seedlings on your quest for May flowers. 
  4. Take a photo, it lasts longer.
    • As much as I don’t appreciate using my phone while I’m focused on connecting with nature, it is awfully convenient for taking pictures. That way, not only am I preserving the memory, but I have something to reference for subsequent identification.

Now that we know how, when, and where to view this spectacle, here are a few blooms to look for (and really can’t miss) on your May meander…

May flowers of Southern Appalachia:

For more information on these featured flowers, visit these source links (in order as they appear in the post):

Great White Trillium:

Wood Anemone:

Fringed Polygala:

Sand Myrtle:

Thymeleaf Bluet:

Red Trillium:

Vasey’s Trillium:

Indian Cucumber Root:

Carolina Allspice:

Wild Geranium:

Showy Orchid:

Heartleaf Foamflower:


Star Chickweed:

Green False Hellebore:

Dwarf Crested Iris:

Swamp Doghobble:

Have more to share? Send us your forest flower power pics for a chance to be featured in a future post!

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