In honor of the arrival of spring, we’re highlighting some of our favorite wildflowers to keep an eye out for while visiting Land Trust trails.
We highly recommend a visit to Wildflower Trail on Monte Sano Nature Preserve this time of year for the best opportunity to catch most of these in their natural element. You can access Wildflower Trail directly from Cleermont Trailhead (506 Cleermont Drive, Huntsville) or check out our trail map and incorporate Wildflower Trail (.58 miles) into your hike plan. This is great hike for families since the trail is mostly flat although a bit rocky in spots and follows alongside Fagan Creek.
Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)
The Land Trust’s Wildflower Trail is known for the carpet of Yellow Trout Lilies that cascade down the side of the mountain. During peak wildflower season, one only need take a few steps into the trail to see these bright yellow nodding flowers. Commonly blooming in March and April in moist bottom lands, rich woods, and ravines, these plants grow in colonies that can be as old as 300 years. The blooms seem to track the sun, staying tightly closed in the cool morning hours then opening fully when the sun rises high in the sky. Interestingly enough, these lilies “retrieve phosphorus from the soil and transfer it to the leaves making it available for herbivores”. Herbivores such as deer need the phosphorus to aid in healthy development especially of teeth and bones. Once spring is over, this plant goes dormant until the next year.
Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)
This is one of the earliest and most prolific flowers of spring! These delicate white flowers with pink veins can appear as early as January and bloom throughout the spring in woods and fields. It is not uncommon to see them poking up out of a blanket of snow from an early spring snowfall. According to Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians, this is a popular plant with insect pollinators and has been visited by over 71 different species. You will see these all along the wildflower trail from start to finish.
Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)
Seen blooming in rich, moist woods and along limestone bluffs, these flowers look as if each has been individually handpainted. Clusters of 3 to 15 flowers appear at the top of a single stem. Each of these flowers boasts pure white petals that press far back from bright yellow united stamens with a rich maroon base. It does not take much imagination to see why these are called Shooting Stars. These flowers are prolific right now especially in the more moist areas of the trail along Fagan Creek and some of the springs and washes.
Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricate)
This plant with blue to purple to pink flowers is found blooming from April through June in rich, moist woods. Also known as “Sweet William”, it can form broad colonies of beautiful flowers.
“Woodland phlox has a long history. According to the National Gardening Association, the plant survived the hot, dry period between the recession of glaciers 120,000 years and the most recent recession 11,000 years ago. After glaciers receded, two separate colonies emerged — those with notched petals spread westward from the Appalachians and are the unnamed species Phlox divaricata laphamii, while those that spread east are current-day woodland phlox. Meadow phlox, though a common garden plant, is considered rare in the wild and is on the threatened or endangered plant species list in some states. One more interesting tidbit is that the dianthus species, for which these two are named, is said to have” been renamed by England’s King George II for his brother William Augustus after William’s victory over the Scots at Culloden in 1746. In Scotland, the plant is called “stinking Billy.”
– Patricia Hamilton Reed from Two Interesting Facts on Wild Sweet William
You can find this dotting the landscape throughout the Wildflower Trail.
Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)
This three leaved plant is found in a variety of wooded habitats in the Southeastern United States and it’s all over the mountain sides here on the Wildflower Trail. Its’ maroon or sometimes yellow, bronze or green blossom, seen often in April, sits erect in the center of its’ three non stemmed leaves. The name “Sweet Betsy” is a call out to the often sweet and fruity aroma of the flowers – a bit unexpected given the appearance. It is the most prevalent of the Trillium found in our area.
Twisted Trillium (Trillium stamineum)
Twisted Trillium, like Sweet Betsy, prefers rich woodland areas and although it looks similar to Sweet Betsy with its’ three green leaves and maroon blossom, it does have distinct differences. Its’ brown petals lay flat on the leaves of the plant and are twisted like a propeller and its’ odor is not nearly as pleasant as that of its’ “sweeter” cousin. Twisted Trillium is found only in western Mississippi, much of Alabama and sixteen counties in the western central part of Tennessee. You can find quite a number of these unusual plants the full length of the Wildflower Trail.
Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
Rue Anemone is found in sheltered, wooded areas throughout the Southeastern United States. Its’ delicate, but abundant showy white flowers can be found from March through May. It is easy to spot alongside the Wildflower Trail tucked among other flowers and even in the crevices of mossy rocks and boulders.
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Perhaps the most showy of the wildflowers on this trail (aside from the Yellow Trout Lilies), these beautiful blue blossoms can be found in the wooded damp areas near Fagan Creek. Once abundant in this area of the preserve, the plants were almost entirely wiped out from those relocating them to personal gardens. Land Trust of North Alabama’s effort to re-introduce a small number of these plants has been extremely successful and has resulted in a beautiful splash of color at the start of the trail in March and April.
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
The Mayapple’s broad deep green leaf can be seen throughout the Monte Sano forest as you meander down the trail. As is typical, you can find them in large colonies with a carefully hidden white blooms nodding beneath the umbrella like leaves. Single leaf plants do not flower, only those with two leaves.
Large Flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)
These unassuming green plants with light yellow blooms can be found scattered in a number of places beside the Wildflower Trail. The entire plant has a “droopy” appearance and the blooms, which also hang down, can typically be seen in April or May. Native Americans used the upper vegetative parts of the plant to make a poultice to treat sore muscles and pain.
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
Jack-in-the-pulpits are some of the most unique plants out there on the trail. Found in rich woods and stream banks, these three leaved plants have a bloom that looks like a “pulpit” with a preacher standing inside. It is rumored that when you gently squeeze the bloom and roll it between your fingers, the “Jack” will “squeak a sermon from his pulpit” (Wild Flowers of North Alabama by Bonnie Perkins Tondera – Laura French Clark and Michael M. Gibson).
Wild Geranium or Cranesbill Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Wild Geranium, which is very common in the rich woods of Monte Sano, have showy pink or rose purple flowers that bloom in April or May. The scientific name comes from the Greek word for crane as the seed pod which forms often looks like a cranes bill. Wild Geranium was used by both the Native Americans and the Appalachian Mountain residents for medicinal purposes.
Photos by Hallie Porter
Dean, B. E., Mason, A., & Thomas, J. L. (1973). Wildflowers of Alabama and Adjoining States. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press.
Horn, D., & Cathcart, T. (2005). Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians: The official field guide of the Tennessee Native Plant Society. Auburn, WA: Lone Pine Publishing.
Niering, W. A. (1985). The Audubon Society field guide to North American wildflowers: Eastern. New York, NY: Knopf.
Reed, P. H. (n.d.). Two Interesting Facts on Wild Sweet William. Retrieved March 23, 2018, from http://homeguides.sfgate.com/two-interesting-wild-sweet-william-77216.html
Stupka, A. (1965). Wildflowers in Color. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Tondera, B. P., Clark, L. F., Gibson, M. M., & Dabney, S. K. (1987). Wildflowers of north Alabama. Huntsville, AL: Inge H. Paul.