Weed or wildflower?

The status of a given plant as either a “noxious weed” or a “lovely wildflower” is pretty much a matter determined in the mind’s eye of the beholder. Several weeks ago, in a column headed “Persecution of the Dandelion,” I defended that plant against the plethora of TV lawn care commercials calling for its eradication. I was startled by the number of emails I received that supported my sentiments.

The mountain rhodo show

Rhododendrons are a part of the heath family (Ericaceae), which includes such diverse members in regard to size and habitat as pipsissewa, trailing arbutus, mountain laurel, doghobble, and sourwood. There are three evergreen rhododendron species in the southern mountains: rosebay (Rhododendron maximum), Catawba or purple (R. catawbienese), and Carolina (R. minus).

From dogwood to blackberry winter

Frost warnings and advisories across the Blue Ridge tonight (May 18) officially announce this year’s “blackberry winter.” It is coming about six weeks after “dogwood winter” and will be a much more gentle reminder of Ma Nature’s cold side. The reports I’ve seen are calling for the possibility of frost in the mountain valleys.

Flame on

Flame azalea is one of our most magnificent common shrubs here in the Smokies region. From late spring into early summer its flowers are produced in profusion on low growing, twiggy shrubs that are often as wide as they are high. The funnel-shaped blossoms that seemingly light up woodland glades range in color from red to yellow to orange and all shades in between.

Persecution of the dandelion

It seems that every lawn care commercial on TV or radio these days is aimed at touting a product which eradicates that obnoxious “weed” known as dandelion. What’s wrong with a few dandelions? Does everyone want a yard that looks like the putting greens at Augusta National? I like dandelions.

Spring wonders: Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont makes nature hands-on

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Cameron Farlow, an intern at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Oconaluftee Visitors Center, reaches down to pluck a meandering millipede from the moist, dirt bank along the side of the trail as we hike up the ridgeline.

The oil nut’s curious little green fruits

For me, the fall season is one of the most invigorating times to get out in the woods and prowl around. Many of the most beautiful wildflowers found in the Blue Ridge, especially the lobelias and gentians, are then coming into their own.

Finding the forest less logged

For three years, Josh Kelly has been stalking forests in the Southern Appalachians in search of unmapped old-growth forests and very old trees.

“It is like a treasure hunt everyday when I go out and look for these places,” Kelly said.

Hepatica — a thing of beauty and lore

Nothing is fairer, if as fair, as the first flower, the hepatica. I find I have never admired this little firstling half enough. When at the maturity of its charms, it is certainly the gem of the woods. What an individuality it has! No two clusters alike; all shades and sizes. A solitary blue-purple one fully expanded and rising over the brown leaves or the green moss, its cluster of minute anthers showing like a group of pale stars on its little firmament, is enough to arrest and hold the dullest eye.

— 19th century naturalist John Burroughs

Hepatica doesn’t display the earliest flowers that bloom each year. Those of bitter cress, henbit, purple dead nettle, bird’s-eye speedwell, and others appear in open moist sunny spots by late January or early February.

The doghobble’s claim to fame

Whenever I’m conducting a native plant identification workshop, I try to note several regional plants — one each in the fern, shrub, and tree categories that participants might utilize effectively in an ornamental setting. I usually recommend cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea). Among small trees, the sweet pepperbush (Clethra acuminata) is my favorite. In the ornamental shrub category, the highland doghobble (Leucothoe fontanesiana) is certainly attractive and manageable. It has evocative associations with regards to both its common and scientific names.

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