Roadside Guide To North Carolina Wildflowers
North Carolina conveniently schedules its spring beauty to blossom at three separate times. So, if you miss one spring, there is another close behind.
Our first season begins along our warm, sunny coast. Flowers in central NC paint the landscape soon thereafter, and finally mountain blooms climb colorfully up the slopes. Although not the prettiest or the most pleasantly fragrant, a blooming skunk cabbage is a sure sign that Spring has sprung. This stalwart February flower grows in boggy areas and actually produces heat to melt any snow that may still be around it. Dandelions bloom early, too. Their yellow color cautions you to keep a sharp eye out for the other flowers that soon will be blooming.
Two flowers, although not technically wildflowers, provide a good gauge to the progression of spring in North Carolina. First is the red bud tree, a highly visible roadside sign of spring. The dogwood, North Carolina’s state flower, is close behind. They move from east to west and from low to high elevations. As the white dogwood flowers climb the North Carolina mountains, other less noticeable flowers – like chickweed and numerous violets – trudge behind in their wake.
One of our most widespread wildflowers, the trout lily, marches across the state from southeast to west during March, April and May. It, too, trails behind the dogwood. You’ll often find this pale yellow flower with mottled leaves growing in large colonies.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is an excellent venue for discovering spring mountain flowers. From the car, you can often see plants like the white large flowered trillium on sunny hillsides and wake robins in higher, drier locations. You may have to take a short walk to see some of the less conspicuous flowers like the purple larkspur, white, star-shaped foam flower, and yellow bellwort.
Nature is not known for planting large numbers of the same flower for visual impact. North Carolina’s Department of Transportation has been assisting nature in the floral arrangement department since 1986 with one of the most aggressive roadside wildflower programs in the country. It is in April when DOT’s handiwork becomes most apparent. Red, white and pink phlox fill Interstate medians in April, as do snapdragons and bachelor’s buttons. DOT plants more than 100 different varieties to keep roadsides colorful from spring through fall.
So, whether you want to go the purely natural floral route, or for DOT’s impact, North Carolina provides it season after season. But before getting in the car to check out our roadside flowers, visit one of the links below so you’ll know what you’re seeing.
added: January 3, 2009
updated: February 26, 2010