America’s Landlocked Rain Forest: The Great Smoky Mountains

Encompassing approximately 800 square miles of mountainous terrain in both North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life. Scientists believe that the 12,000 identified species of wildlife account for only one-tenth of the organisms that flourish there. Also found in the park are structures that represent the Southern Appalachian Mountain culture of the settlers who once lived in the area.

The mists that enshroud the Great Smoky Mountains are the result of evaporation and incredible downpours that qualify the park’s highest peaks as rain forests. Those who follow the park’s hundreds of miles of hiking trails find that in the Great Smoky Mountains, nearly every stream or river leads to a waterfall. Established by Congress in 1934 and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, the park receives some 10 million visitors annually.

To celebrate National Park Week, we’re holding a daily contest here on the blog centered around our love of national parks. Each day’s single winner will receive a set of the Scenic American Landscapes stamped cards, which showcase photographs from parks across the country.

To enter the contest for today, simply answer the following question:

How many acres does the largest national park measure?

Submit your answer to uspsstamps [at] gmail [dot] com and remember, spelling counts! The winner will be selected at random and notified by email. Deadline for entries is 12 p.m. EST on Sunday, April 29. Good luck!

Wildlife in the Nature of America Stamp Series

In the spirit of National Wildlife Week, I’ve been thinking about the very popular Nature of America stamp series, which ran for 12 years, from 1999 to 2010. The series was meant to teach about the beauty and complexity of major plant and animal communities in the United States. Each sumptuous pane of ten stamps featured original artwork by John D. Dawson:

The 12th and last pane in the series focused on the Hawaiian rain forest. The setting for the pane is a rain forest on Hawaiʻi’s largest island, also named Hawaiʻi. As is typical, the leaves and branches of mature ʻōhiʻa lehua trees dominate the forest canopy. Below, the lush understory is dense with ferns and saplings, as well as flowering trees and shrubs that add bright touches to the countless shades of green. Colorful blossoms attract honeycreepers such as the scarlet ʻiʻiwi, whose long, curved bill allows it to reach the nectar of tubular hāhā flowers. An ʻamakihi sips the nectar of red ʻōhiʻa lehua blossoms, while an ʻākepa glides toward the same tree, where it will glean insects from leaf buds. A Hawaiian thrush known as the ʻōmaʻo prefers fruits and berries.

Small insects and spiders are difficult to spot among the thick vegetation of an actual rain forest, but a few are visible near the bottom and center of the painting. A Koele Mountain damselfly, for example, can be glimpsed clinging to a plant stem as a Kamehameha butterfly lays eggs on the leaves of a māmaki, its primary host plant. In its natural habitat, the cricket at lower left would more likely be heard rather than seen, chirping and trilling from one of its many hiding places. Among the smallest creatures is the happyface spider, shown in extreme close-up at lower right in the painting. Named for a facelike pattern on its body, this spider is less than a quarter of an inch in size (not counting the legs).

The scene on the pane is completely imaginary. Such a dense grouping was necessary in order to show as many plants and animals as possible in the stamp pane format. Even so, every species depicted could be encountered in a Hawaiian rain forest.

Previous panes in the Nature of America series were Sonoran Desert (1999), Pacific Coast Rain Forest (2000), Great Plains Prairie (2001), Longleaf Pine Forest (2002), Arctic Tundra (2003), Pacific Coral Reef (2004), Northeast Deciduous Forest (2005), Southern Florida Wetland (2006), Alpine Tundra (2007), Great Lakes Dunes (2008), and Kelp Forest (2009). You can read all about them, and the history of the series, on Beyond the Perf. And check out the underwater dedication ceremony for the Kelp Forest pane. The kids sound like they had a great time!