Natural Flora of the Blue Ridge Mountain and Smoky Mountains
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Messages from the Mountains
Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains

Floral Mantle of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains

The southern highlands of the Blue Ridge Mountain Province are considered one of the most diverse greenhouse in North America. Of the 2,500 identified shrubs, trees, mosses and lichens, there are roughly 1,500 flowering species. Out of the 200 species native to the southern highlands there are 40 species of wildflowers only found in this area. Of the many vegetation communities, two are unique to this mountain region. They are known as heaths and coves.

Heaths offer the greatest display of floral beauty. The name heath derives from the Scottish word heather, yet no true heather grows in North America. Heaths are found in the understory of forest and on the high slopes and mountain balds'. These heaths consist of mountain laurel, rhododendron, azalea, and mountain myrtle along with wintergreen, blueberry, huckleberry, and male berry. Heaths are also referred to as "slicks," by local mountain folk because of the smooth, shiny leaves of this unique plant life. This diverse presence of beauty and color is the main draw of tourists to the Blue Ridge Mountains throughout the entire spring season.

Coves are generally remote areas on mountain slopes where the sides of mountain ranges fold inward and are well watered from higher streams. The soil is deep and fertile and each cove is characterized by its dominant vegetation such as various trees and plant life. Some of the flowering plants you'll find in coves are the crested dwarf iris, trumpet honeysuckle, dog hobble, columbine and the purple fringed orchid.

The first botanists who entered the southern highlands in the 18th Century had no idea they were exploring a forest of flowering trees that once covered much of the Earth's terra firma millions of years ago when the continents were considered to be connected. Three centuries of Old World invasion have done considerable damage to this once preserved Garden of Eden. Early settlers, logging, mining and the infestation of calamitous plant disease that destroyed the giant chestnut trees have taken their toll on the ageless mountains, yet the charm and colorful beauty of the southern highlands have surpassed man's intent towards destruction for personal gain. Thanks to the forestry department setting the standard, and for the preservation and the perseverance of mother nature's diligence, we can still enjoy a magnificent display of pure mountain beauty.

The Blue Ridge Highlander is collecting a series of photos and presenting those to our readers for their personal enjoyment. We are identifying each photo with reference materials available to us and will be continuing to add additional photos periodically for your viewing pleasure.


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