Appalachian Trail Spring Wildflowers

Wildflowers of the Appalachian Trail
Elk Garden, May 3, 2013

While it was warm in Independence and at other lower elevations, in Elk Garden at approximately 4000’, and with 30 mph winds rearranging our hair and expressions, it almost seemed like winter still had a grip.  But we were here for ephemeral wildflowers…those that get the business of propagating accomplished before the forest canopy sucks away the sunlight’s energy…and we were in the right place.

This field trip was a collaborative effort among the Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club, Blue Ridge Discovery Center, and Doris Halsey’s art students from Grayson County High School.  Carol Broderson, who also serves as a substitute teacher for the Grayson County Schools, is an active member of the MRATC and avid hiker.   

Through her connection with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as well as a volunteer for BRDC, she initiated this field trip.  Eleanor Grasselli, also with the MRATC, and Cecelia Mathis, BRDC volunteer and wildflower enthusiast, offered professional back-up guide support.

We had seven students and Ms. Halsey as artists in the moment.  The bus arrived at 9:something, and we quickly moved out of the wind into the woods to begin our studies.  Aaron Floyd served as our director through Blue Ridge Illustrated, a funded BRDC program.  Each student was assigned a species or two, and given the opportunity to find that flower in one of the many field guides on hand.  We used both the Latin and common names, and instructed the students to write down enough descriptive information on their field cards to assist them in discovering the living forms along the trail.  Which they did.

Finding the best example of their target species for sketching purposes was the next step.  Then the drawing tablets and pencils came out, with each kid finding their comfort zone and settling down to capture the basic details of their flower.   

While the students were sketching, several guides took photos and/or encouraged the kids to do so with shared cameras.  Pictures taken from the same perspective as that of the artist will be utilized for further in-class studio follow-up.  Cecelia, Scott and Aaron were all involved in this process. 
During lunch, out of the wind and exploiting the solar advantages of the bus, we shared our morning’s work, ate ramps, and talked about the studio follow-up strategies for creating a valuable poster or other type of publication.  Aaron carefully explained the value of contrast when illustrating wild flowers, starting with a basic outline or silhouette, and moving into detail afterwards.  

After lunch we had an hour to return to the field, take a longer look at our flowers, and work a bit harder on securing the best photos for further documentation purposes.  We also talked about other BRDC sponsored programs and events that might interest this enthusiastic group. 

The target species list, derived from the combined expertise and explorations of Carol, Eleanor, and Cecelia appears below:
Latin Name    Common Name
Phacelia fimbriata   Fringed Phacelia
Houstonia caerulea  Bluets
Erythronium americanum Trout Lily
Claytonia virginica  Spring Beauty
Trillium erectum    Red/purple Trillium  
Trillium grandiflorum  Large white Trillium
Dicentra cucullaria  Dutchman’s Breeches
Dicentra canadensis  Squirrel Corn
Dentaria laciniata   
   Aka Cardamine concatenate Cutleaf Toothwort
Caudophyllum thalictroides Blue cohosh
Anemone quinquefolia  Wood Anemone
Ranunculus recurvatus  Blisterwort
Disporum lanuginosum  Yellow Mandarin
Alliaria petiolata   Garlic Mustard
Tussilago farfara   Colt’s Foot
Viola canadensis   Canada Violet  
Viola hastate   Yellow Violet with halberd shaped leaves
Viola pubuscens   Downy Yellow Violet
Viola sororia   Common Blue violet
Allium tricoccum   Ramps
Veratrum viride   False Hellebore

We wish to thank Doris Halsey and her class.  The students involved were Kenny Yonce, Morgan Simpson, Jake Parnell, Levi Taylor, Marcus Thompson, James Williams, and Luke Wright.

Scott Jackson-Ricketts