Every year at this time Northeast Georgians anticipate what flowering beauties spring will bring.
Was winter too cold? Was it too dry? What about that last cold snap – did it kill the blossoms? We ponder those questions and make our best guess as we eagerly await the budding of a new season.
Once blooms do appear the question for many is, “What’s that?”
In this special feature, Bill Kinsland of WRWH Radio and wrwh.com answers that question about some of the spectacular blooms we’re seeing this year.
FLAME AZALEA (Rhododendron calendulaceum)
In mid-April each year, many people think the forests are on fire when they look off into the woods! In the right light, it almost appears to be a huge column of flame. Upon closer inspection, they discover the intensely orange Flame Azalea.
These beautiful shrubs (8 to 12 ft tall at maturity) generally burst forth in color from about mid-April until mid June. The flowers generally emerge before the leaves. Being a deciduous plant, the leaves drop off each autumn.
The bright orange, tubular or vase-shaped flowers occur in terminal clusters. Fully developed, each is about 1.5” to 2” wide and has anywhere from 3 to 10 sticky corolla lobes, 5 long stamens and a style.
The ovate leaves are generally 2 to 4 inches long at maturity. Their edges are finely serrate with tiny hair-like structures. The base is narrow and comes to a point where it attaches to the stem.
This plant shows up in a wide range of different terrains. It’s most frequent habitat is a bald mountain top. However, it also shows up frequently in open spots in the middle of forests. It prospers in an acid-soil environment and is cultivated frequently as an ornamental yard plant. It ranges from southern Pennsylvania westward through West Virginia and Ohio and southward to northern Georgia and Alabama.
William Bartram, the great botanist who explored 8 southern states from 1773 to 1777, recorded the Flame Azalea, saying “it is the most gay and brilliant flowering shrub yet known.”
TROUT LILLY (Erythronium americanum)
The Trout Lilly is a perennial wildflower native to eastern North America and a member of the Lilly Family (Liliaceae). It’s blooms first appear in early April and persist through late May.
It’s name reflects the unique color pattern of its leaves. The leaves are motteled and are somewhat brownish white and green in patterns similar to those seen on the native brook trout.
The plant normally has only one leaf during its first three or four years of life and no blooms. In its fourth or fifth year, it develops two leaves which sheath the base of the flower stem. Each leaf on a mature plant is about 3 to 6 inches in length and has a narrow elliptical shape.
There is only one flower on a mature plant. The nodding flower is usually a bright yellow color overall. It rests atop a stalk that can be as tall as 6 to 10 inches at maturity. There are three petals and 3 sepals, all curving sharply backwards. Each flower has 6 stamens with brown or yellow anthers.
Another interesting characteristic of these plants is the fact that they grow in large, very tight colonies that are permanent. There are some colonies known to be some 300 years old in other areas.
According to Cherokee ethnobotanist Mary Chiltoskey, the Cherokees used this plant in their medical practices. An infusion of the root was given for reducing fever. Also a poultice of crushed leaves was applied to skin wounds and raw plant juice was poured over the poultice. As with all herbal remedies, do not use this without consulting a medical doctor.
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida )
One of the most beloved and treasured trees of the Southern Appalachian forest is the Flowering Dogwood. Its beautiful blossoms opening around Eastertide mark the real beginning of the spring season.
Dogwood is a member of the Cornaceae or Dogwood Family. This family includes some 120 species of shrubs and trees in North America. A relatively small tree, it rarely exceeds 40 feet in height and the average trunk diameter is about 8 inches at maturity. The bark of mature trees is characteristically gray and “broken” or furrowed having the appearance of alligator hide.
The Dogwood’s bloom is very showy and prominent. It is important to note that the four white “petals” are not petals at all, but are actually bracts which surround the base of the flower head, prominently notched on the apex and arranged cruciformly around the flower head, another key characteristic.
The actual Dogwood flowers themselves are quite small, yellow-to-yellow-green in color and are packed tightly into a larger flower head. From the records kept by the writer, it is noted that buds can begin to open as early as March 1st or as late as April 4th, reaching full-bloom by April 15th as an average date.
The elliptical arcuate leaves measure 3 to 6 inches. In autumn , the color changes gradually to a dark ruby-red or almost-purple color as early as August 20th and as late as September 18th. The leaves reach their peak color between October 16th and October 24th.