North Carolina Icons: Appalachian Trail, Part 2: Nature

NC IconsThis week in our North Carolina Icons series, we’re circling back to an icon we covered once already: the  Appalachian Trail. The trail is number 6 on Our State magazine’s list of 100 North Carolina Icons. In our first post, we gave some suggestions for great hiking books to help you get your boots on the ground. But we’ve got so many books that cover so many ways to enjoy the Appalachian Mountains, we’re going to triple-up on this icon (yes, there will be yet another Appalachian Trail post coming soon!).

This week’s post is dedicated to exploring the nature of the Appalachian Trail, from identifying wildflowers to the natural history of the mountains.

There are thousands of different species of plants and animals along the Appalachian Trail, varying as the trail goes through different climates. There are 2,000 rare, threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant and animal species. You can learn more about the Appalachian Trail, and other North Carolina icons, from the State Library of North Carolina.

Here are four books for enjoying the plants, animals, and breathtaking views of the Appalachian region. (And of course, they’re all 30% off in our Holiday Sale!)


Mountain Nature: A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians, by Jennifer Frick-Ruppert

Mountain Nature: A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians, by Jennifer Frick-Ruppert, is a lively and engaging account of the ecology of this remarkable region. It explores the animals and plants of the Southern Appalachians and the webs of interdependence that connect them.

Within the region’s roughly 35 million acres, extending from north Georgia through the Carolinas to northern Virginia, exists a mosaic of habitats, each fostering its own unique natural community. Stories of the animals and plants of the Southern Appalachians are intertwined with descriptions of the seasons, giving readers a glimpse into the interlinked rhythms of nature, from daily and yearly cycles to long-term geological changes. Residents and visitors to Great Smoky Mountains or Shenandoah National Parks, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or any of the national forests or other natural attractions within the region will welcome this appealing introduction to its ecological wonders.


Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont, by Timothy P. SpiraWildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains: A Natrualist’s Guide to the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia is a richly illustrated field guide that serves as an introduction to the wildflowers and plant communities of the southern Appalachians and the rolling hills of the adjoining piedmont. Rather than organizing wildflowers, including trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, by flower color or family characteristics, as is done in most guidebooks, botanist Tim Spira takes a holistic, ecological approach that enables the reader to identify and learn about plants in their natural communities.

Full-color photo keys allow the reader to rapidly preview plants found within each of the 21 major plant communities described, and the illustrated species description for each of the 340 featured plants includes fascinating information about the ecology and natural history of each plant in its larger environment. Whether you are a beginning naturalist or an expert botanist, this guidebook is a useful companion on field excursions and wildflower walks, as well as a valuable reference.


Southern Appalachian Celebration, by James ValentineIn Southern Appalachian Celebration: In Praise of Ancient Mountains, Old-Growth Forests, and Wilderness, James Valentine presents an enduring portrait of the region’s unique natural character with a stunning collection of images of the Southern Appalachians. His compelling photographs of ancient mountains, old-growth forests, rare plants, and powerful waterways reveal the Appalachians’ rich scenic beauty, while Chris Bolgiano’s interpretive text and captions tell the story of its natural history.

Valentine has hiked hundreds of miles across mountainous parts of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia to photograph some of the last remnants of original forest. These scarce and scattered old-growth stands are the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world. Valentine and Bolgiano show that understanding these mountains and their extraordinary biodiversity is vital to maintaining the healthy environment that sustains all life.

This book is large format (10 x 14) with 136 color illustrations. Makes a great gift!


Native Orchids of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, by Stanley L. BentleyNative Orchids of the Southern Appalachian Mountains is an authoritative guide that showcases the unmatched beauty and diversity of the native orchids of the southern Appalachian mountains. Based on Stanley Bentley’s many years of nature study, it covers the 52 species—including one discovered by Bentley and named after him—found in a region encompassing western Virginia and North Carolina and eastern West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The entry for each orchid provides the plant’s scientific and common names, a description of the flower (including color, shape, and size), and information on the time of flowering, range, and typical habitat, all in the context of the southern mountains. A range map accompanies each description, and Bentley’s own superb photographs are an additional aid to identification. Using straightforward language yet incorporating the most up-to-date scientific information and nomenclature, the book will be welcomed by amateur naturalists or professional botanists looking for species in the field and by those who simply enjoy photographs of beautiful wildflowers.

Remember to keep track of our NC Icons tag while we continue to post (almost) weekly updates of things to do and places to visit in North Carolina.