If allowed only one word to justify the Smokies
worthiness as a National Park, that word would be plants.
Vegetation is to Great Smoky Mountains National Park what
granite domes and waterfalls are to Yosemite and geysers are to
Variations in elevation, rainfall, temperature, and geology in
these ancient mountains provide ideal habitat for nearly 1,500
species of flowering plants, including 100 native tree species
and over 100 native shrub species. From mid-April to mid-May,
spring ephemeral wildflowers bloom profusely in the deciduous
forests during a brief window of growth before trees leaf-out
and shade the forest floor. From mid-June to mid-July,
extravagant displays of mountain laurel, rhododendron, azalea,
and other heath family shrubs flower en masse, especially on
high elevation heath balds.
The park is also a global center for non-flowering plants,
including 450 bryophytes—mosses, liverworts, and a few
hornworts. Non-flowering species also include some 50 ferns and
fern allies and at least one horsetail.
The park is home to three federally listed threatened (T) and
endangered (E) plant species: spreading avens (E), Virginia
spiraea (T), and rock gnome lichen (E), the latter being part
fungus. Over 300 additional species of native vascular plants
are considered rare, meaning they are generally found in small
populations or have five or fewer occurrences within the park.
Also considered rare are nearly 200 of the 450 non-vascular
plants. A total of 76 species of park plants are listed as
threatened or endangered in the states of Tennessee and North
Non-native plants, species that have been introduced to an
ecosystem by human activities, are a threat to many park
ecosystems. Of over 380 non-native species in the park, 35
spread aggressively, out-competing native plants for habitat.
Some of the worst offenders in the park are kudzu, mimosa,
multiflora rose, and Japanese grass.
Mountains Blooming Calendar