Spring Wildflower Scavenger Hunt

March 3, 2020  |  Permalink

With each spring, new blooms pop up to ensure us that warmer weather is near. More than just beautiful accents to our hiking trails, these wildflowers serve an essential role in the ecosystem supporting pollinators and wildlife. As you enjoy our parks this spring, we challenge you to look closer and get to know these blooms. We've put together a list of 14 wildflowers and flowering shrubs that you can find in our parks this season. We've also listed parks where these flowers have been spotted before to guide your search.

As you're out discovering new blooms, record what you find with the free iNaturalist app. In the app, click 'observe,' snap a picture of the plant you're looking, and hit "what did you see." iNaturalist will then provide you with the name, image, and description of the species it thinks you've found. Make sure to record the park location and share to help our naturalists at Tennessee State Parks keep track of the living things in our parks. You might even have your recording deemed research-grade!


1. Spring Beauty

Scientific Name: Claytonia virginica

You'll find the Spring Beauty in clusters low to the ground. Its flowers can be pink or white with dark pink stripes. Like a potato, this flower has a tuber that forms at the base of the roots. Native Americans and Colonists used to eat them, and their sweet, chestnut flavor is still enjoyed by some today.

Viewing: January – May

West Tennessee: Meeman-Shelby State Park

Middle Tennessee: Long Hunter State Park, David Crockett State Park, Port Royal State Park, Bledsoe Creek State Park, Henry Horton State Park, Booker T. Washington State Park, Old Stone Fort State Park.

East Tennessee: Cove Lake State Park


2. Nashville Gladecress

Scientific Name: Leavenworthia stylosa

There are four species of Gladecress found in Tennessee, but the Nashville Gladecress is a bit of a show-off. You'll know you've spotted a Nashville Gladecress by its long notched white, purple, or yellow petals with a yellow center. It produces a sweet and robust honey scent making it popular among pollinators.

Viewing: March – May

Middle Tennessee: Long Hunter State Park, Cedars of Lebanon State Park


3. Early Buttercup

Scientific Name: Ranunculus fascicularis

The Early Buttercup gets its name from being the earliest buttercup to bloom for the season. This dainty flower has five yellow petals and a hairy stem. Emerging pollinators benefit from its bloom, but you won't see deer, rabbits, or other mammals munching because its leaves are poisonous to them. You'll spot it in dry areas with sparse vegetation.

Viewing: March – May

Middle Tennessee: Long Hunter State Park, South Cumberland State Park


4. Virginia Bluebells 

Scientific Name: Mertensia virginica

These flowers start as a cluster of pink buds that blossom into beautiful trumpet shaped flowers in shades of blue. Large grey-green oval shaped leaves line their stems that can grow up to 24 inches tall. Butterflies are the most frequent pollinator, perching with ease on the edges to enjoy the nectar.

Viewing: March - June

West Tennessee: Meeman-Shelby State Park

Middle Tennessee: Radnor Lake State Park, Edgar Evins State Park, Old Stone Fort State Park, Dunbar Cave State Park, Montgomery Bell State Park, Cedars of Lebanon State Park, Burgess Falls State Park, Standing Stone State Park

East Tennessee: Frozen Head State Park, Sycamore Shoals State Park


5. Glade Phlox

Scientific Name: Phlox bifida

The Glad Phlox is a ground cover plant, meaning it grows in thick clusters spreading out to cover as much bare earth as possible. Its full bloom makes for a beautiful sea of lush pale blue and white flowers. Its petals are uniquely notched, resembling the shape of a Y.

Viewing: March - May

Middle Tennessee: Long Hunter State Park, Radnor Lake State Park, Cedars of Lebanon State Park


6. Bloodroot

Scientific Name: Sanguinaria canadensis

The wildflower gets its name from the red juice its stem and roots produce. It has large round leaves and white flowers with golden-orange centers. At night and on especially cloudy days, these flowers close up and reopen when sunlight returns. Indians used the plant as a dye for baskets, clothing, and war paint, as well as for insect repellent.

Viewing: March - April

Middle Tennessee: Edgar Evins, Dunbar Cave State Park, South Cumberland State Park

East Tennessee: Frozen Head, Red Clay State Historic Park, Sycamore Shoals State Park, Roan Mountain State Park


7. Round-lobed Hepatica

Scientific Name: Hepatica americana

The Round-lobed Hepatica has three leaves with rounded tips, a hairy stalk, and blue flowers. This flower is one of the earliest blooming wildflowers and was once used as a medicinal herb. In the late 1800s, more than 400,000 pounds of dried Americana leaves were used in just one year to make a tonic for liver ailments. 

Viewing: March

Middle Tennessee: Old Stone Fort State Park, Cummins Falls State Park

East Tennessee: Big Ridge State Park, Roan Mountain State Park


8. Sharp-lobed Hepatica

Scientific Name: Hepatica acutiloba

Similar to the Round-lobed Hepatica, the Sharp-lobed Hepatica has three leaves and is one of the earliest blooming wildflowers. They differ in leaf shape with the Sharp-lobed Hepatica leaves being pointy. They have white or blue flowers and found in moist forest areas.

Viewing: March

Middle Tennessee: Burgess Falls State Park, Cummins Falls State Park, South Cumberland State Park

East Tennessee: Frozen Head State Park, Warriors Path State Park


9. Wood Anemone / Nightcaps

Scientific Name: Anemone quinquefolia

Although you may think you see petals, these small and delicate-looking flowers don't have any. What you're seeing are petal-like sepals. Sepals are leaves that protect the developing flower bud. They can be green and leaf-like or in this case, composed of petal-like tissue. You'll find these flowers in shades of white or pink growing in clusters low to the ground. If you see them, that's an indication of a healthy woodland floor! 

Viewing: March – June

Middle Tennessee: Bledsoe Creek State Park

East Tennessee: Roan Mountain State Park, Frozen Head State Park, Norris Dam State Park


10. White Trout Lily

Scientific Name: Erythronium albidum

When you first see a While Trout Lily, you might think that it's wilting because it's facing downward. The flower is doing just fine; in fact, it's protecting itself. The flower contains nectar that attracts insects that pollinate the flower, and those rob it of its nectar. By facing downward, the flower is protected from pollen washing away and prevents pesky insects from taking nectar from pollinators. While this flower is one of the first woodland flowers to bloom in the spring, it isn't easily spotted in Tennessee.

Viewing: February – April

Middle Tennessee: Cedars of Lebanon State Park


11. Prairie Trillium

Scientific Name: Trillium recurvatum

The trillium can be tricky to identify, even for botanists. These seemingly simple plants with three leaves and three stamen have only a few structural differences between the species making them difficult to tell apart. The Prairie Trillium has a flower that's reddish-purple, and its leaves have splotches of light and dark green on top and smooth pale green bottoms.

Viewing: March – May

Middle Tennessee: South Cumberland State Park, Dunbar Cave State Park

West Tennessee: Meeman-Shelby State Park, T.O. Fuller State Park, Old Forest State Natural Area in Overton Park.


12. Red Buckeye (shrub)

Scientific Name: Aesculus pavia

This shrub has bell-shaped flowers that can be deep red or yellow that grow in clusters up to 10 inches long. Their leaves are dark green and glossy. American Indians used to throw powdered seeds and branches of this and other buckeye species into water pools to stun fish. This process would cause them to rise to the surface for a more straightforward catch.

Viewing: March – May

Middle Tennessee: Radnor Lake State Park, Montgomery Bell State Park

West Tennessee: Meeman-Shelby State Park, T.O. Fuller State Park, Old Forest State Natural Area in Overton Park.

13. Bulbous Bittercress

Scientific Name: Cardamine bulbosa

These flowers are small with white or pinkish petals. Their leaves are edible and have a peppery taste. Its natural habitat is moist soils of bottomland forests and swamps.

Viewing: April

West Tennessee: Old Forest State Natural Area in Overton Park, Pinson Mounds State Park, T.O Fuller State Park

Middle Tennessee: Montgomery Bell State Park

East Tennessee: Cove Lake State Park


14. Butterweed

Scientific Name: Packera glabella

This adaptable species can bloom in both shade and sun just as long as there's moisture present. Blooms of the Butterweed are profuse and fill landscapes with bright yellow petals throughout the spring.

Viewing: March – May

West Tennessee: Big Hill Pond State Park,  Ghost River State Natural Area (Mineral Slough trail and boardwalk)

East Tennessee: Cove Lake State Park, Norris Dam State Park


All wildflower distribution maps used in this article are credited to the University of Tennessee Herbarium

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