The beautiful state of North Carolina is known for its diverse landscapes, from gorgeous mountains to stunning coastal plains. North Carolina is also home to a wide variety of wildflowers. From the beautiful Carolina lily to the delicate Turk’s Cap lily and from the fiery flame azalea to the aptly named black-eyed Susana, North Carolina has a rich array of wildflowers that dot its meadows, forests, trails, mountains, and coastal regions.
This article will detail some of the most common wildflowers you may be lucky enough to see in North Carolina. Whether you are a nature lover, hiker, or just someone who likes looking at pretty things, these common wildflowers will ignite a sense of wonder and appreciation for the diverse natural beauty that flourishes in North Carolina.
10 Wildflowers in North Carolina
State wildflowers of North Carolina
The state wildflower of North Carolina is the Carolina Lily. It was designated as the official state wildflower in 2003 by the General Assembly. This perennial wildflower, discovered by the French botanist André Michaux in the late 18th century, can grow up to 4 feet tall and has showy, trumpet-shaped flowers that are typically orange-red in color with dark spots.
1. Carolina Lily
Scientific Name: Lilium michauxii
Also known as the Michaux’s lily, the Carolina lily is North Carolina’s official state wildflower. It is a stunning orange and yellow speckled flower with unbranched stems that grow between two and four feet tall. This fragrant lily is a perennial flower that blooms in the summer months, between May and June, in the dry, mountainous areas of the state.
2. Flame Azalea
Scientific Name: Rhododendron calendulaceum
The flame azalea is a vibrant and showy deciduous shrub with orange, yellow, and red flower clusters that bloom in late spring. These striking flowers are native to the southern Appalachian Mountains and are a popular sight with hikers and nature lovers. They are lovely, but beware because flame azaleas are poisonous to humans, dogs, cats, and horses.
3. Mountain Laurel
Scientific Name: Kalmia latifolia
The Mountain laurel is an evergreen shrub that can grow between six and 10 feet tall. In some regions, like the Appalachian Mountains, mountain laurel can grow up to 32 feet tall, making it more like a tree than a shrub.
Mountain laurel has beautiful clusters of pink or white flowers and can be found in several NC habitats, like mountain slopes, woodlands, forests, cool meadows, and more. Mountain laurel is highly toxic to humans, dogs, cats, and horses as well.
4. Eastern Columbine
Scientific Name: Aquilegia canadensis
The Eastern Columbine is a perennial wildflower native to the forests of North Carolina. This wildflower is known for its red and yellow tubular flowers that are very attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, and bumblebees.
Fun fact: The Eastern Columbine was chosen as the NC Wildflower of the Year in 1987.
5. Carolina Rhododendron
Scientific Name: Rhododendron carolinianum
The Carolina rhododendron is a woody shrub with white to pale pink flowers that bloom in spring. These shrubs can grow up to 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Even when not in bloom, its evergreen leaves provide year-round beauty, and when in bloom, it becomes a true spectacle, attracting the attention of hikers, nature enthusiasts, and photographers.
6. Turk’s Cap Lily
Scientific Name: Lilium superbum
The Turk’s Cap lily is an NC native lily with tall, sturdy stems and clusters of brilliant orange-red flowers. The unique shape of its blooms, with petals that curl backward, gives it the distinctive name “Turk’s Cap.” This beautiful wildflower can grow up to 8 feet tall and is a favorite of pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds.
7. Black-eyed Susan
Scientific Name: Rudbeckia hirta
The black-eyed Susana is a hardy wildflower found growing along banks and roadsides in North Carolina. These flowers have brown, domed centers that resemble a “black eye.” The petals can be bright yellow, orange, or burgundy. These flowers are biennial, which means it takes them two years to grow to maturity and die.
8. Cardinal Flower
Scientific Name: Lobelia cardinalis
This striking red wildflower is named for the color of Roman Catholic Cardinal robes, which are also bright red. The cardinal flower blooms from late summer to mid-fall and grows between 4 and 5 feet tall. This wildflower thrives in rich, wet soil and can be found in wetland areas, including stream banks, swamps, and along the edges of ponds and lakes.
9. Butterfly Weed
Scientific Name: Asclepias tuberosa
Also known as orange milkweed or pleurisy root, butterfly weed is a perennial plant found in dry, rocky woods, prairies, fields, and roadsides in North Carolina. This beautiful wildflower has vibrant orange or yellow flowers that bloom in late spring through the summer. This plant serves as a host plant for Monarch butterflies. Their caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed plants.
Fun fact: Butterfly weed was chosen as the NC Wildflower of the Year in 1985.
10. Blue Ridge Goldenrod
Scientific Name: Solidago spithamaea
Commonly confused with ragweed, the Blue Ridge goldenrod is a low-growing perennial plant with small, bright yellow flowers. Blooming from late summer to early fall, the Blue Ridge Goldenrod attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies with its abundant nectar.
Where and When to See Wildflowers in NC
To experience the beauty of North Carolina wildflowers, it’s important to know where to look. The best places and times to see wildflowers in North Carolina vary because of specific locations and blooming times. In the mountains of NC, many wildflowers bloom during the spring between April and June, such as rhododendrons. To view these flowers, visit places like the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Pisgah National Forest.
In the Piedmont region of NC, the best time to view wildflowers, such as Carolina lilies, columbines, and black-eyed Susanas, is between March and May. Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham and Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont are great places to view the Piedmont area wildflowers in North Carolina.
The coastal plain regions of NC are also a great place to view wildflowers like butterfly weed from March to May. Wildflowers bloom in nature trails, meadows, and wetlands in areas like Croatan National Forest or Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Exploring coastal state parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges can lead to memorable encounters with the beauty and vibrancy of North Carolina’s most common wildflowers.