Grandfather Mountain guided walks celebrate rhododendron blooms

The Remarkable Rhododendron Ramble

Grandfather Mountain offers a striking backdrop for the vibrant hues of rhododendron blooms. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Few plants signify “summer” in the mountains quite like the vivid pink Catawba rhododendron, and Grandfather Mountain is center stage for the spectacular annual show.

“These remarkable shrubs in the heath family are one of the brightest gems on the mountain,” said Frank Ruggiero, director of marketing and communications for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Linville, N.C., nature preserve and attraction. “With their distinctive and bright blooms, the rhodos practically dare folks not to look at them.” 

To showcase the beauty and significance of this native plant, Grandfather Mountain naturalists will host the Remarkable Rhododendron Ramble from June 1 to 11. This series of short, guided strolls, each held at 1 p.m. daily, allows 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 Saturday, May 27, Grandfather Mountain will be operating under its extended summer hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. (with ticket sales ending at 6 p.m.).

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.grandfather.com to plan a trip.

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