Mountain Loving Plants of the CT

When you do one of those 5,000 foot climbs in the Smoky Mountains, you see clear changes in the vegetation. The spruce-fir forest is only at the top. While we hiked the CT, I was interested in what changes in the plant life we would see as we climbed the Crab Orchard and Cumberland Mountains. We were at most reaching elevations a bit above 3,000 ft. rather than 6,000 ft. in the Smokies.

The effect of elevation on plant life along the CT is confounded with latitude change. As we progressed northward on the CT, the growing conditions for the plants were likely affected both by being further north and at times by higher elevation. This means that when we discuss plants that like cooler temperatures, not all the coolness is based on elevation. Some of it is latitude.

Generally to the south the ridge tops or other high points have drier growing conditions than lower areas.  At the higher elevations (above 2000 ft.), which are all to the north, the high areas are often surprisingly moist. I believe this is caused by lower evaporation due to cooler temperatures and perhaps also more rain and/or fog on the mountain tops.

The table below gives some plants which might be more common at higher elevation on the Cumberland Plateau, Crab Orchard Mountains and Cumberland Mountains. This is very preliminary, and your input is requested.

Common name Scientific name Form UT Atlas Cumberland Counties Comments
Wild Sarsaparilla Aralia nudicaulis herb none Should be searched for Particularly in Frozen head. Pounds has a vague memory of it there.
Black birch Betula lenta tree many All along the CT but more common with higher elevation
Yellow birch Betula alleghaniensis tree many Strangely not noted during our 2012 CT hike.
Pitch Pine Pinus rigida tree Hawkins, Anderson, Campbell Cumberland Gap area on ridge top
Striped maple Acer pensylanicum shrub many All along the CT , surprisingly not particularly more common with elevation
Mountain maple Acer spicatum shrub Anderson, Claiborne, Warren, Grundy, Van Buren Not seen during CT hike but should be a good indicator of elevation
Catawba rhododendron Rhododendron catawbiense shrub many Surprisingly only seen in the southern, low elevation section of CT
Buffalo nut Pyrularia pubera shrub many
Interrupted fern Osmunda claytoniana fern Many Seen twice along the CT. Black Mountain and above Caryville but also seen at low elevation along Daddy’s Creek
Bead lily Clintonia umbellulata herb 5 counties
bunchflower Melanthium woodii or M. parviflorum herb Campbell, Grundy I am unable to separate these two vegetatively Scattered at low and high elevations
Leatherleaf meadowrue Thalictrum coriaceum herb Claiborne, Cumberland, Morgan All sites seen were near the tops of mountains
Showy Gentian Gentiana decora herb Cumberland Seen on the CT on Big Bruce Ridge in Campbell Co. not vouchered
American Lily-of-the-valley Convallaria montana herb many Brady Mountian and Cumberland Mountain
Filmy Angelica Angelica triquinata herb 0 In Frozenhead but apparently not vouchered
Veiny Pea Lathyrus venosa herb Hamilton, Rhea Also in Frozenhead. Morgan Co. not vouchered
Starflower Trientalis borealis herb Not vouchered One 3,000 ft. location in Frozen Head (not on the CT)


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