Notes from a plant nerd: Rhododendron, showman of the Southern Apps

Throughout Southern Appalachia, rhododendrons can be found growing and blooming. And what a show they put on. With flower colors running from white, to pink, to purple with large and small flowers, rhododendrons are among the most iconic flowers in all of Western North Carolina and can be found growing in most of the many and varied ecosystems in these mountains. 

Notes from a plant nerd: A little beauty on an early spring day

One of my favorite things in the world to do is walk people into a field of wildflowers that they haven’t seen yet, point one out and then watch as they realize that those flowers are also blooming all around them. It’s not their fault that they didn’t see them at first. Often, until we are shown something, we don’t see it. Once we are shown it, it is difficult to not see it. 

Notes from a Plant Nerd: How a love for plants took root

Hi, my name is Adam Bigelow, and I am a Plant Nerd. 

‘Still plenty to do’: Continual curiosity key for awarded botanist

When Ron Lance found out he’d been chosen for a prestigious Southern Appalachian Botanical Society award, he was astonished.

Toxic plants of Appalachia

From time to time, I’ve discussed in this space various plants the Cherokees and early settlers utilized for medicinal, edible and utilitarian purposes. The reverse side of that topic would be those plants that were dangerous to use.

The Naturalist's Corner: Aster-risk*

Blue, white, lavender and purple corymbs, racemes and panicles will glow from shadowy woods and blaze from sunny meadows from now until the first hard, killing frost. Asters comprise a large beautiful complex and challenging group of wildflowers to pin down. More than 20 species of the genus aster have been recorded from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Because of considerable variation within species and the tendency of species to hybridize, even competent botanists are sometimes left to a “judgment” call when trying to identify certain individuals.

The Naturalist's Corner: Santee surprise

During our annual summer beach trip to Isle of Palms, I often manage to sneak away one morning to visit Santee Coastal Reserve for an annual red-cockaded woodpecker fix. State and federal agencies have been successfully enhancing the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker population at Santee Coastal for a number of years. It’s a great place to see these noisy little woodpeckers as they nest along the main dirt road through the reserve and all you have to do is drive slowly along until you hear the constant chatter of a colony.

Horsemint is a fascinating, useful plant

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a July 2010 edition of The Smoky Mountain News

Each July since 1991, I’ve led field trips along the Blue Ridge Parkway offered as part of the Native Plants Conference sponsored by Western Carolina University. This year’s outings (July 25) will have taken place by the time you read this.

Magnolia trifecta

It’s May! That means my 2019 Forest Service bird survey has begun — another six weeks of roaming the wilds of the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. It’s clearly a bird-centric six weeks but there is, of course, a lot more to see in our national forests. This past weekend I was fortunate enough to hit a magnolia trifecta. I found all three of the common magnolias — genus Magnolia — (just so you sticklers don’t throw Liriodendron in there) in flower.

The first truly showy woodland flower

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in May 2005.

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. But to my way of thinking, year in and year out, hepatica is the earliest of the truly showy woodland wildflowers. Trailing arbutus has a reputation in this regard. One often reads of those who discover it blooming under late snows. But I hardly ever observe arbutus doing much more than budding before April. Hepatica can still be found in bloom in early May in the higher elevation hardwood forests.     

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