The Natural Rhododendron Gardens of Roan Mountain

Every June thousands of people flock to Roan Mountain to walk among the magnificent mounds of rhododendrons. In a good year, these dense shrubs, standing taller than a person, create a spectacular display with thousands of magenta blooms. Each rhododendron’s round, manicured shape is a testament to severe pruning by wind and winter weather. The peak blooming period is usually around the third week of June, but this year, the bloom has come early, and the blanket of flowers over the upper slopes of the mountain are already impressing impatient visitors.

Around 1830, General John T. Wilder bought 7,000 acres across the top and sides of Roan Mountain. It was Wilder who built the road to Carver’s Gap at 5,550 feet. He also constructed a 20 room log inn near the summit of Roan High Knob in 1877, then replaced it with the luxurious Cloudland Hotel. For about 20 years, guests enjoyed the “pure air, and the delightful temperature, the clear, cold spring water, and the perfume laden woodlands.” Today little evidence remains of the once elegant hotel. A road leads up the mountain to the world renowned gardens that feature the largest display of Catawba Rhododendron in the world.

The view of Table Rock on the eastern side of Linville Gorge is really breathtaking on a clear day.

From this elevation over 6,200 feet, the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina are visble from horizon to horizon.

A labyrinth of trails allows the hardy hiker to walk amongst the hundreds of bloom laden shrubs.

The gardens are nestled between an old growth forest of Red Spruce and Fraser Fir, with many of the older trees sporting impressive growths of moss and lichens.

From a high overlook, the blooms are like a blanket leading to the horizon.

Gradation of magenta and pink are seen all around the gardens. Some of the bushes are over ten feet high.

Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, is clearly visible in the rarified air above 6,000 feet.

Each clump of blossoms is made up of many individual flowers, each beautiful in its own right.

The puffy clouds are very near the ground at this altitude, and make quite a statement against a deep blue sky.

With the spruce trees growing in such a way as not to block the sun from the shrubs, the rare plants can flourish in these high elevations.

A final look to the east shows the magnificence of this mountain and this garden. During the Great Depression, truckloads of plants were carried off and sold at nurseries, and it was only after Roan Mountain was added to the national forest system were the rare plants preserved.

3 thoughts on “The Natural Rhododendron Gardens of Roan Mountain

  1. On what dates were your above Roan Mountain photos taken? Can you tell me if the blooms are now at their peak (June 14, 2012) or are they beyond that now?

    • The rhododendron should be peaking today and this weekend. We’ve had lots of rain, and I don’t know how that affects the bloom. Go while you can…. They are beautiful. I was there last Friday. June 8th.

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