Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gentian Found

This is part two of my hike to Mount LeConte in search of a rare gentian; part one covered the hike up via the Rainbow Falls Trail. Here I show you some of what we found up there and on the hike back down via the Bullhead Trail. The first thing we found at the top was a profusion of summer flowers around the buildings at the Lodge.

While the plants around the LeConte Lodge are a bit "cultivated" (and I use that term loosely), one can still enjoy the beauty in the combination that man and nature have put together. A wild and colorful mountain top meadow is the overall effect: The green headed coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata var. humilis) and white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima var. roanensis) that we saw on the way up is joined here with a vibrant blue monkshood (Aconitum uncinatum), a few blooms of scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma) and some grasses. This is a combination that would be reproducible in my own garden (given enough space!).

 There are five paths up to LeConte Lodge so it was fun after dinner to explore some of the
Gentian and grass of Parnassus
others once we got to the top. We were able to find the Gentiana linearis and another very special plant with it: grass of Parnassus (Parnassia asarifolia). It is not a grass and the name Parnassus goes back to its similarity to a Greek plant named for a mountain in Greece. It's presence is generally associated with wet areas or seepages. We find it in Georgia as well. It has a beautiful white flower with a pattern that appears to be etched into the petals.

Gentian found! Gentiana linearis

Parnassia asarifolia

All those white flowers are grass of Parnassus blooms!

The two plants were found in a very rocky area that obviously has constant moisture. It was fabulous to see such a unique and natural area. We were not expecting to find the Parnassia so it was a delightful surprise.

After a good night's sleep in cabins with no electricity, we had breakfast and headed down the mountain via the Bullhead Trail. This trail is not very scenic but plant nerds can find good in almost any natural setting. Angelica venenosa, asters and goldenrod were some of the perennial plants that we saw. The bees were very fond of these plants, especially the angelica.

Gaultheria procumbens
At lunch we stopped in an area with large boulders and rocky soil. The sides of the path were thick with eastern teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens). Jane convinced me to try one of the berries. The taste was minty but it also reminded me of the wax lips we got for Halloween when I was a kid. I noticed some red berries above my head and was happy to identify the shrub as one of the deciduous hollies; given the elevation, perhaps it was Ilex montana, mountain holly.

Aureolaria flava

As we continued through a dry area, we found different goldenrods (such as Solidago erecta), a lone blue aster, and plenty of yellow false foxglove (Aureolaria flava).  We find all of these in Georgia, and I do love the cheerful late season blooms of the false foxglove.

Plant some Eupatorium for the bees, they love it

As we descended further, we went back through a moist area with plants typical of rich, moist soils: ferns, sweet Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida), Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana), mandarin (Prosartes), mountain bugbane (Actaea podocarpa), Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum), Solomon's plume (Maianthemum racemosum), and many mushrooms.

And the last thing of the day - less than a mile from the trailhead - we saw a black bear! He was moving too fast for a picture. He paused once in the middle of the trail, and we got a good look at each other. Then he took off at a very rapid rate through the undergrowth and was gone.

If you enjoyed these pictures, I think you'll like this video of summer wildflowers in the Great Smoky Mountains (© Great Smoky Mountains Association 2012).


  1. Ellen,

    Rocky outcroppings have a special place in my heart. I really love the photo you shared of the one you encountered. Thank you for sharing the many beautiful wildflowers that you spotted on your trip. Great job!


  2. I love rock outcroppings too. NIce Gentian find! I saw a lot of Wintergreen a few weeks ago in Upper Michigan. I have not tried the berries, but love to chew on the leaves.