Trees and shrubs bloom throughout the year. From February through April the flowers of red maples paint the mountains with a wash of brilliant red. Showy trees such as serviceberry, silverbell, flowering dogwood, redbud, Fraser magnolia, and tuliptree soon follow. Later in summer sourwood, a tree prized for the honey that bees produce from its small bell-shaped, white flowers, begins to bloom. The year ends with the yellow flowers of witch-hazel, which blooms from October through January. The park is particularly famous for its low-lying shrubs that add a splash of color to the already beautiful array of colors.
Catawba rhododendron have brilliant pink/purple flowers. They begin blooming in early June at elevations above 3,500 feet and will continue to reach their peak at higher elevations as the month wears on. Some good places to see the Catawba rhododendron are just past Chimney Tops trail parking lot on Newfound Gap Road, Alum Cave Trail and Andrews Bald.
Rosebay rhododendron (white flowers) will start to appear at lower elevations in the park in June, but in July and August they’ll be popping at all elevations. A common name for both the Rosebay and Catawba rhododendron in the Smokies is “laurel”. This is one of the many reasons why the word “laurel” is such a frequent name of many places in the park: Laurel Creek, Laurel Branch, Laurel Falls etc.
The similar-looking white and pink flowering plant, mountain laurel, blooming from early May through June, was called “ivy” by the mountain people. It’s kind of confusing to think about – Rhododendron is “laurel” and mountain laurel is “ivy,” but even today many people still refer to these beautiful plants by their old names.
Another flowering shrub blooming in the Smokies is the flame azalea shrub, which has many small orange-reddish flowers. These plants are blooming in April, but are expected to be at their peak throughout the end of July. Andrews Bald near Clingman’s Dome and Gregory Bald in Cades Cove are always favorite spots for flame azaleas.