Kentucky Wildflowers


Location: Pinch-em-Tight trail, Red River Gorge, KY

Duration: Two nights

Companions: Three

Date: April 2017


Last April, we did a loop in the Red River Gorge in Kentucky starting at Pinch-em-Tight Trail, to Rough Trail E, then Rush Ridge Trail, which brought us back to the Pinch-em-Tight parking lot. I love this 5-6 mile loop. The landscape you go through is diverse and you get a taste of everything from high ridge overlooks, rocky overhangs and caves, and the little creeks that run through the bottom of the gorge. This also means it’s a tough hike with a lot of ups and downs, but who doesn’t like a good leg burner?

On this trip, I discovered how important it is to keep my eyes open. Sometimes, I find myself staring only at the path in front of me as I hike. I wonder now how much beautiful flora I’ve missed along the way over the years. I was walking along the beginning of Pinch-em-Tight and came upon a woman who had a tripod and was photographing something. It was a group of four huge pink flowers, which she told me were pink lady slipper orchids. She also informed me that I must have passed hundreds of them. As we continued I realized she was right, these things were all over the place!!!

From then on, I made sure to keep my eyes open for pink lady slippers as well as other flowers. I learned that pink lady slippers like particularly acidic soil and can only grow if a specific mycorrhizae, a fungus that forms a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, is present. This is also true for the showy orchid. The pink ladies also trick the bees into pollinating them, using their bright color and fragrance to entice the bees into their slipper for some nectar, except these orchids don’t produce nectar. Dang bees, you got duped…but check out the showy orchid, it does produce nectar. Along the way, we came across so many different wildflowers and I wasn’t able to identify all of them. I am pretty sure in addition to the orchids, I saw wild geranium, red trillium, wild iris, and mountain azalea. The mountain azalea smelled so incredibly good, it filled the whole ridge with its sweet fragrance.  Apparently, the end of April is the time to go for wildflower gazing at the Red.

Pink Lady Slipper Orchid

Cypripedium acaule

Showy Orchid

Galearis spectabilis

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Wild Geranium

Geranium maculatum

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Red Trillium

Trillium erectum

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Wild Iris

(not sure what kind)

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Mountain Azalea

Rhododendron canescens

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We also saw lots of cool fungi, like the shiny plastic-y varnish shelf fungus aaaaaaand…..MORELS!!!!! This was my first time seeing a morel in the wild. If you are not familiar, morels are a very tasty edible mushroom that are highly sought after. I could only afford them from the scratch-and-dent box (the ripped or not whole ones) at the farmer’s market. People will pay a lot of money for these unique looking mushrooms. Be careful if you are going to harvest them from the wild. There is a look-alike called a false morel that is poisonous. So uh…do your research! I’m not an expert morel hunter so I’m going to forego trying to explain the difference.

Varnish Shelf Fungus

Ganoderma tsugae


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