(photo by James Voigt)
One of the earliest signs of spring in the Catoctin forest is the blooming of wildflowers. The wildflower season begins in early April, with different plants continuing to bloom throughout the summer. Location, altitude, and weather can affect bloom times.
Wildflowers that may be seen include spring beauties, cutleaf toothwort, wild geranium, bloodroot, wild ginger, rue anemone, wood anemone, yellow violet, yellow trout lily, cardinal flower, hepatica, jack-in-the-pulpit, several species of orchid, mayapples, and more.
Several Maryland listed endangered, threatened, and "watch list" plant species reside in the park. One exceptionally beautiful species, the purple-fringed orchid is listed as threatened by the state. The purple-fringed orchid is rarely seen in the park and it appears that their population is declining, perhaps due to over browsing by deer and lack of suitable habitat.
Special measures have been taken to prevent the loss of this unique orchid. Wire cages are placed around individual plants to protect them from deer. The Resource Management staff at Catoctin also performs yearly surveys to monitor these rare, beautiful orchids and preserve their existence. Unfortunately other orchids haven't been as successful, such as the lady slipper orchid that was commonly found at Catoctin, but has since disappeared.
Some excellent places to look for wildflowers include Brown's Farm Trail, roadside pull-offs along Big Hunting Creek, and the Blue Blazes Still Trail. Wildflowers can also be seen alongside most trails in the park.
Please do not pick the wildflowers! Picking wildflowers not only denies others the opportunity to admire their beauty, but it also threatens the existence of the plant, and is illegal in all National Park units. It is also illegal to collect seeds from wildflowers.
Catoctin Mountain Park offers guided "Wildflower Walks" in April and May. Check with the Visitor Center for exact dates and location.