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Written by:  Elizabeth Scott.
© 2000 All Rights Reserved.

Volume 1, Number 3
Summer 2000
On line Version


Violet Journeys

Elizabeth Scott reports on the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee,

Image of Giant Spurred Violets
Giant Spurred Violet

             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 cucullata, 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. conspersa, 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 V. canadensis and two non-natives, V. bicolor and V. odorata

Image of Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker

             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 adelgid. 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

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