Wild Georgia: Roadsides can be wildflower sanctuaries

Credit: Charles Seabrook

Credit: Charles Seabrook

A hike in Georgia’s wild places during spring and fall can reward one with views of a variety of strikingly beautiful wildflowers and other native flora. With some 3,500 species of flowering plants — trees, wildflowers, shrubs, vines, grasses and others — Georgia ranks sixth as the most biologically diverse state in the union.

But you don’t always have to hike for miles through woods, fields and swamps to appreciate this rich diversity. An amazing array of wildflowers grows and blooms along Georgia’s highways and back roads.

In driving around Georgia, I have on countless occasions carefully pulled off along a highway or country lane to examine and photograph wild roadside plants. Of course, safety is paramount, and I do so only if it’s safe for me and other motorists.

Roadside botany may be especially enjoyable along the maze of U.S. Forest Service roads that wind through the vast Chattahoochee National Forest in North Georgia. Such was the case last weekend during the Georgia Botanical Society’s annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, headquartered this year in Hiawassee in the state’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

One of the 22 field trips offered during the event was a “roadside botany” outing along Coopers Gap Road in the national forest near Dahlonega. We carpooled in several cars to follow leader Rich Reaves, known for his roadside botanizing.

Reaves and wife Anita had already “scouted” our route and knew where to stop along the road to see numerous species of blooming wildflowers — trilliums, columbine, violets, bellwort, pink lady’s slipper, yellow lady’s slipper, showy orchid, mountain laurel, Solomon’s plume, wild geranium and many others. We found them next to the road or only a few steps away.

The previous weekend, the Reaveses had led another roadside botany trip to entirely different habitats on the other side of the state, in the vicinity of the Okefenokee Swamp deep in southeast Georgia. There, a whole new suite of blooming wildflowers was found — rose-pink, rose pogonia, drumheads, sundew, butterwort, pitcher plants and many others — all along the roadsides.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon is new on Friday (May 19). Venus is in the west and Mars is in the southwest at sunset. Jupiter and Saturn (low) are in the east just before dawn.

Charles Seabrook can be reached at charles.seabrook@yahoo.com.