When we think about a wildflower outing, we tend to think about an excursion on foot, walking a woodland trail in search of, perhaps, a specific species that’s known to bloom at a certain time. But how many of us think about viewing wildflowers from a bicycle? It’s true this is more likely in an urban setting. A few years ago, we toured a few wooded residential neighborhoods in Atlanta on two wheels, led by a local tree expert who showed us some of the champion trees of the city (see Jonah McDonald’s Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests for more on trees there), and we saw lots of flowers, both native and domestic. But just out on a bike ride, even on single track, do we go for the flowers?
Here in the Southern Appalachians, there are plenty of quiet country roads, both gravel and paved, that offer excellent wildflower viewing and light traffic that allow you to stop and look, especially if you go at particular times of the week. We rode a few Sundays ago, relatively early in the morning along the Little Tennessee River not far from home, when few people were out and the weather was still delightfully cool. It was a moderately challenging out-and-back, 12-mile ride with lots of flat along the river, and a remarkable number of wild flowers. Part of our route took us on gravel. Pumping slowly up the two or three sustained uphill stretches we had plenty of time to really look for early summer blooms.
There were, of course, the bright orange “railroad” day lilies so ubiquitous at this time of year. We spotted, among others, a Spanish bayonet in full flower; the more common wild hydrangeas; sensitive brier; fire pink; and a new one for us: leather vasevine, whose latin name, clematis viorna is derived from a word meaning “road ornament.” Its urn-shaped, reddish-purple bells grow along the river bank here, the blooms standing out amidst all the vibrant green. With few people on the road, there was time to pull over and check them all out. We finished the ride just as it was getting a bit too hot and bright for our taste. Perfect timing for a Sunday morning wildflower outing.