This past April I had the good fortune to visit the Great Smoky
Mountains National Park. In other words, I was able to take a short trip
to heaven. Few, temperate zone areas have as many species as the Smokies
or a greater abundance of wildflowers; it has to be seen to be believed.
You pass hillsides so covered with fringed phacelia that it looks like a
recent snowfall. There are ten species of trillium in the park, and in
many places trillium forms a complete ground cover as far into the woods
as you can see. Thousands, tens of thousands of them, and more violets
than you dreamed existed!
Of course, we saw much Viola sororia as well as its white-flowered
form, and the blue and white Confederate violet. and a beautiful purple
violet streaked vertically with white that was new to me. Britton &
Brown describes such a flower as variety Thurstonii of Viola
and since V. cucullata was also nearby, it may have been that. Viola
hirsutula, or southern wood violet, is one of my favorites with its
silvery, purple-backed leaves. It never seems to grow in great masses
but just here and there amidst other woodland violets. Viola palmata was
there with its easily recognizable lobed leaves, and V. pedata grows in
large drifts right along the roadside. Of the stemless whites, we found
both Viola blanda and the tiny V. macloskeyi, and the only stemless
yellow, V. rotundifolia, was still in bloom at higher elevations.
Stemmed blues were Viola rostrata, long spurred violet, V.
dog violet, and the pale blue V. rafinesquii, our most pansy-like
violet. It has sometimes been called Viola kitaibeliana because it was
thought to be either a naturalized violet from Europe or a native
variety of that European species, but now it is considered a separate
native species with its own name. It is sometimes white but can be
distinguished from other white stemmed violets because of its very leafy
stipules. The stemmed Viola striata can be identified by its toothed
stipules and its creamy white color, while V. canadensis has a yellow
throat and blue on the under side of the petals. The downy yellow and
smooth yellow are now one species, Viola pubescens, with the smooth
being variety leiocarpa, and we saw both. We also saw a lot of
halberd-leaved violet, Viola hastata, which would surely be a candidate
for our most beautiful violet because of the lovely silver markings on
the leaves, and I wonder why it is never seen in gardens or for sale.
Next year, or next time, I really want to look for the ones we didn't
see this year. The others on the official Park list are V. lanceolata,
V. porteriana, V. primulifolia, V. sagittata, V. septemloba, V.
tripartita, V. walteri, another variety each of V. blanda and
canadensis and two non-natives, V. bicolor and V. odorata
We were not birding, but we did see 54 species of birds, including a
pileated woodpecker that seemed to be performing and posing for us.
Another creature we saw that may be more beautiful than any flower was a
luna moth, with a four inch wingspan. The pink-bordered, pale green
wings with eye spots and a long curve at the end of the hind wing look
like something dreamed up by an Art Nouveau designer. It had just come
out of its cocoon so we could watch as long as we wanted while the wings
dried. That was a rare treat indeed.
Even though the park looks like paradise, it is not problem-free. There
are too many deer eating foliage, and introduced wild boars rip up the
terrain like roto-tillers. There are more than 20 million visitors a
year, with attendant smog and pollution, but the roads are being widened
up to the perimeter of the park and motels are still being built for
ever more visitors. Since 1985, more than 60% of the dogwoods have been
killed by a fungus, that is, in only 15 years. The tops of the highest
peaks have only skeleton trees because more than 90% of the Fraser firs
have been killed by an aphid relative called the balsam woolly
The hemlock woolly adelgid that has decimated northern hemlocks has been
found in the park, and it is only a matter of time before it starts its
terrible work. So my advice is to go next April if you can. You'll love
it. A good way to do it is to attend the Wild Flower Pilgrimage, held
the last weekend in April every year and based in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Maps are provided to show the best locations for flowers, there are very
knowledgeable guides and although there are many attendees there are not
huge crowds at any one location.
© 2000 Elizabeth Scott
For The American Violet Society
All Rights Reserved