A profusion of vegetation defines the Great Smoky Mountains; it has one of the richest and most diverse collections of flora in the world. The park is about 95% forested, home to almost 6,000 known species of wildflowers, plants, and trees. Many call the Smokies the “wildflower national park,” as it has more flowering plants than any other U.S. national park. In all, typically in October, hundreds of thousands of visitors jam the roads of the park to view the autumn leaf colors.
You can see wildflowers in bloom virtually year-round: ephemerals such as trillium and columbine in late winter and early spring; bright red cardinal flowers, orange butterfly weed, and black-eyed Susans in summer; and Joe-pye weed, asters, and mountain gentian in the fall. However, the best time to see wildflowers in the park is the spring, especially April and early May. The second-best time to see the floral display is early summer. From early to mid-June to mid-July, the hillsides and heath balds blaze with the orange of flame azaleas, the white and pink of mountain laurel, and the purple and white of rhododendron.
For a few short weeks, usually from late May to mid-June, synchronous fireflies put on an amazing light show.
Altogether, some 17,000 species of plants, animals, and invertebrates have been documented in the park, and scientists believe up to 80,000 additional species of life, as yet unidentified, may exist here.