Spring is near and nowhere is that more apparent than in Shenandoah National Park.
The welcome rite of spring is marked by the return of wildflowers, migrating birds, and creatures waking up from the slumber and sluggishness of winter.
Throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains, flowering shrubs like pink azaleas and mountain laurels provide a brightness on the hilltops as delicate wildflowers cover the forest floor in color. Here, you will find a veritable Garden of Eden. More native species of plants exist in Shenandoah than throughout all of Europe — with more than 1,100 flowering plants and 18 varietals of orchids. There are also 47 species of ferns and mosses and 100s of different kinds of fungi.
Annual blossoming starts as the lengthening days, and warmer temperatures revitalize bloodroot and coltsfoot in March. Then in April, periwinkle, dogwood, and columbine are in bloom, as birds begin to court and build their nests. With May comes azaleas, golden ragwort, violets, and marsh marigold. Finally, in June and on into summer, there is a continual blossoming of black-eyed Susans, delicate Queen Anne’s lace, asters, mountain laurel, and evening primrose.
Flowers are not the only thing that are in bloom. Trees are also on display in their spring finery. Shenandoah has about 100 species of trees, with oak and hickory as the most common. After a few visits, you may find yourself able to identify trees by their leaves. Take oak trees for example; the northern red oak has intricately lobed leaves, while the tulip tree oak has blunt-lobed ones. The bark is also a telltale indicator of a tree species. For example, loose, curling strips of bark identify shagbark hickory, and be sure to watch your head for falling nuts. Towering trees provide a natural refuge for wildlife and a plentiful nut supply to last woodland creatures throughout the fall and winter.
Spring is at its peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains between late April and early May, when migrating birds return to mate and build their nests. Wood, Canada and Blackburnian warblers, as well as rarer black-throated blue warblers, come from the south. This time of year, the forest is filled with the sounds of their mating calls and songs. A bustling avian place, more than 200 species of birds have been observed in Shenandoah.
In addition to birds, numerous animal species call the park home. From the rarely seen bobcat to the more common raccoon, and elegant white-tailed deer, the park hosts more than 43 species of mammals and 29 species of fish.
The thriving ecosystem is even large enough to support a high concentration of large herbivores. Researchers say the black bear population in Shenandoah is denser than anywhere else on the planet.
Spring is not to be missed at Shenandoah National Park. You can catch it now, anywhere along the 105-mile Skyline Drive. For more information visit www.nps.gov/shen