Few plants scream “summer” in the mountains as loudly as the vivid pink Catawba rhododendron, and Grandfather Mountain is center stage for the spectacular annual show.
“This set of shrubs in the heath family are the gems of the mountain,” said Mickey Shortt, Director of Education and Natural Resources for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Linville attraction. “They are the showiest, the brightest, the ones that we turn our heads to look at.”
To showcase the beauty and significance of this native plant, Grandfather Mountain naturalists will host the Remarkable Rhododendron Ramble from June 1-12. These short, guided strolls held at 1 p.m. daily allow visitors to observe the blooms and learn from naturalists about their history, characteristics and roles they play in the mountain’s ecological communities. The programs are free with regular park admission.
The Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) has leathery, dark green leaves that are generally broader and shorter than other rhododendron varieties, and the flowers bloom in flashy tones of lilac and magenta. The species was first named and catalogued by French explorer André Michaux in the late 1700s.
While the Catawba rhododendron is the leading act, the mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) are also beginning to join the procession of shrubs blooming on the mountain. Visitors also will be able to see the white to creamy-pink flowers of the rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) in late June and into July.
Many rhododendrons are already blooming at lower elevations in the High Country.
But the wide range of elevation available on Grandfather Mountain — a nearly 1,000-foot change from base to peak — provides viewers with a longer window of opportunity to see the rhododendron in bloom.
Starting May 27, the attraction will be operating under its extended summer hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
The nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call (800) 468-7325, or visit www.grandfathermountain.org.