Hike 0.3 miles on the easy Sosebee Cove Trail in Union County, Georgia, to see extensive wildflower displays, “A Botanist’s Paradise.”
By Tim Homan
Sosebee Cove is known primarily for two features: its army-strong stand of tuliptrees and its luxuriously abundant wildflower displays. Although the 175-acre cove hardwood forest may look like virgin timber, most of the cove is actually second-growth. The tract was logged in the early 1900s and has not been substantially altered since that time.
The trail serves as a memorial to US Forest Service Ranger Arthur Woody, who negotiated the purchase of this cove by the Forest Service. You’ll see a memorial sign describing his life and achievements.
Near where the loop trail heads to the left (counterclockwise), the largest tuliptree in the area stands 15 yards to the right and down from the big signs. It has a girth of 16 feet 5 inches measured 4 feet 6 inches from the ground. While not as big around as the Sosebee Cove champion, hundreds of other maturing tuliptrees – actually deciduous members of the magnolia family – have reached heights of more than 100 feet. Their gradually tapering gray trunks are free of limbs for much of that distance.
Near the end of the loop back near the road, the path passes beside a yellow buckeye that is gigantic for its species. At 4 feet 6 inches from the ground, the mossy-boled tree measures 15 feet 4 inches in circumference-making it the second largest yellow buckeye in Georgia, only slightly smaller than the current state record holder.
One sign states that Sosebee Cove is “A Botanist’s Paradise,” It’s true. To give even a cursory account of the cove’s bewildering diversity would require a small pamphlet. In addition to those listed on the sign, numerous other wildflowers grace the cove from late March through September. There are almost always members of the lily family in sight. They include false hellebore, yellow mandarin, Solomon’s seal, false Solomon’s seal, trout lily, Turk’s-cap lily and three species of trillium – large-flowered, sessile, and Vasey’s. The three members of the barberry family – blue cohosh, umbrella-leaf, and mayapple – can be easily identified by their distinctive leaves. There are mints such as crimson bee-balm and wild bergamot; orchids such as rattlesnake plantain and showy orchis. Purple-flowering raspberry, leather flower, and wild columbine bloom in the sunshine of the power cut. Sourgrass, wild geranium, and giant chickweed thrive there along with meadow rue and rue anemone; white baneberry (doll’s-eyes), foamflower, spring beauty, and sweet cicely also take turns adding to the cove’s beauty.
It seems that no matter when you visit an area during spring, your timing is off: something better than what is blooming is always either in bud or has already blossomed the week before. There is no guaranteed schedule for wildflowers. But from March 25 through May 15 at least one new wildflower species will open every three or four days. And there really are those good days when you time the flowers just right, when you find orchids and trilliums and many other showy species blooming simultaneously along the same path.
Many people leave Sosebee Cove somewhat frustrated, wishing they could have identified more of the plants they found. Knowledge of the following three wildflowers, which are large, distinctive, and common in Sosebee Cove, will at least provide a start for beginners. Uncommon throughout the mountains of North Georgia, the umbrella-leaf is abundant along the rocky seepage slopes of the cove. The nonflowering stems produce a single huge leaf, 1-2 feet across, with jagged, deeply cut edges. The flowering stems produce two somewhat smaller leaves. Throughout much of May, the plant holds a single cluster of relatively small white flowers well above its tropical-looking leaves. The umbrella-leaf is endemic to the Southern Appalachians. An almost identical species lives in the mountains of Japan.
The plant with the broad, fern-like leaves is sweet cicely. Its tiny white flowers bloom in a sparse cluster in early May. Sweet cicely received its name from its aromatic roots, which have a licorice-like scent when bruised.
The Turk’s-cap lily is a perennial herb that reaches 9 to 10 feet in height. This splendid wildflower commonly grows 6 to 8 feet tall in Sosebee Cove. Its lanceolate leaves emanate from the stem in whorls about 10 inches apart, giving the plant a distinctive, tiered appearance. This lily’s orange to orange-red flowers (with reddish-brown, freckle-like spots) most often nod toward the ground at an angle similar to that of a showerhead. Their long, exposed stamens point downward away from the plant. Their 2-to 3-inch petals, however, flare into a reflexed arc – out from, up from, then back above the point of attachment. The Turk’s-cap lily usually blooms from about mid-July to mid-August.
Sosebee Cove has two short interconnected loop trails. The main trail – a loop about 0.2 mile in length – begins at the foot of the steps below the parking area. The second trail, which is less than 0.1 mile in length, crosses through the center of the loop.
Sosebee Cove is a special place, and it is protected as a National Forest Scenic Area. Its plants are not portable. It is against the law to pluck or pull up any flower or plant, even the tiny ones that you think no one will miss. If, as is often said, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law, then certainly arrogance is no excuse either.
Most of the scenic area’s 175 acres have been incorporated into the 7,800-acre Blood Mountain Wilderness, which lies to the south of GA 180.
Throughout: Maturing hardwoods and lush spring and summer wildflower displays.
The trailhead is located on the north side (right if you are heading west) of GA 180. From Turners Corner, where US 19 joins US 129, continue north on US 19-129 for slightly less than 11.0 miles (0.4 mile past Vogel State Park), then turn left onto GA 180. Proceed 3.1 miles on GA 180 until you reach Sosebee Cove’s paved parking area on the right.
From the Blairsville square, travel on US 19-129 South for approximately 10.0 miles to GA 180. Follow GA 180 to the Sosebee Cove parking area.
This hiking guide to the Sosebee Cove Trail is adapted from The Hiking Trails of North Georgia by Tim Homan and is published in cooperation with the publisher, Peachtree Publishers. With his meticulous attention to detail and accuracy, Homan has long been recognized as the authority on North Georgia hiking trail by serious hikers. His other books include Hiking Trails of Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek Wilderness, Hiking the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness and others. For a complete inventory of his books see his Amazon Author Page. For an inventory of Peachtree Publishers books including its Nature books for children, go to the Peachtree Publishers website.