Diversity is a hallmark of the Parkway and the keen observer will take notice and marvel at the variations in the southern mountains. One reason for the variation is, quite simply, the change in altitude. The Parkway ranges from a mere 650 feet above sea level at Virginia’s James River, to over 6,000 feet south of Asheville in the rugged Pisgah range. For each thousand feet gained in elevation the temperature decreases several degrees.
This means that a trip along the Parkway, in search of spring wildflowers, is ever changing. If you miss the early blooms at lower elevations, rest assured that you will get more opportunities in the higher elevations where the blooming is a bit later. A variety of wildflowers decorate the Blue Ridge most of the year, beginning in late February or early March as May apple, spring beauty, and a variety of violets come into view. Buttercups and bloodroot are common along the roadsides in April. Without a doubt, May is the best overall month for all elevations along the Parkway as trillium, fire pink, and Bowman’s root cover the ground under the purple and white blossoms of redbud and dogwood. Rhododendron, mountain laurel, and a variety of azaleas put on their big show from May through late June. Catawba rhododendron is the purple variety that blooms from early June around the Peaks of Otter in Virginia to the third week of June at Craggy Gardens in North Carolina. Any time between those dates, there are spots of this variety blooming.
Rosebay rhododendron is the larger white variety that begins in mid to late June and blooms into July, primarily through the area of Rocky Knob in Virginia. Flame azalea, pink azalea or pinxter flower bloom early to late May in many Parkway areas. Mountain laurel blooms mid to late May and into June in higher elevations. Don’t think for a minute that wildflower season is over when the calendar turns to summer because you won’t want to miss the fields of black-eyed Susan, ox eye daisy, tall coneflower, andcoreopsis that blanket fields from late summer into autumn.