Among the Desert Blooms and Underground Streams

A spring hike through Tennessee's rare cedar glade habitat


The Cumberland River Basin is a hotbed for biodiversity. The region contains some of the greatest diversity in plant and animal species in the United States. There are over 10,000 types of flora and fauna that live across our 18,000 square mile Cumberland River watershed– many of them rare and endangered!

One of the reasons this biodiversity exists is because of the range of habitat the basin offers, from mountainous terrain at the foothills of the Appalachains to rare cedar glade habitats in Middle Tennessee. 

 Springtime in the basin offers amazing opportunities to see these biodiverse plants in bloom. Despite living in Middle TN for a few years, I had never visited a cedar glade before, though my colleagues are always raving about their beauty and uniqueness. On a sunny Friday afternoon in early April, I decided what better time to make my first trip to one of these special places and explore this biodiversity myself? I rallied my partner to make the trip with me and drove us out to one of the places closest to us to see what we could find. 

 In this guide, follow us on a spring wildflower hike in Cedars of Lebanon State Park to discover spectacular and diverse species within this cedar glade habitat. 

Into the Woods
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Hidden Springs Trailhead

328 Cedar Forest Rd, Lebanon, TN 37090

Our journey started at the Hidden Springs Trailhead at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Even though it’s only about an hour from my house, the state park was one of a few in Middle TN that I hadn’t visited before. 

Cedars of Lebanon is situated on over 1,000 acres, hosting opportunities for camping, hiking, and horseback riding just south of Lebanon. Named for its red cedar trees that populate the mixed forest around the park, Cedars of Lebanon is also home to a few coveted cedar glades. 

Formed when the limestone bedrock of the region comes close to the surface of the land and creates a terrain of thin soil and exposed rock, cedar glades stand out for their ability to support only a specialized range of life. Cedar Glades are only found in select areas within the Southeastern region of the US- Middle TN being an area that hosts a great many of them.

Only a select few species can survive and thrive in the thin, rocky soil within the desert-like habitat of cedar glades. Because of this, there are a number of endemic plant species within them that ONLY grow in Middle TN! These include plants like the Tennessee Coneflower, Pyne’s Groundplum, and Nashville Breadroot– just to name a few. 

Spoiler alert! While we didn’t get a chance to spot these endemic species in bloom on our hike, we DID spot a variety of gorgeous blooming wildflowers and other desert-native species that made us think: “are we really still in Tennessee?”


Despite this rare plant life and the great biodiversity and beauty found within cedar glades, development, erosion, other man-made problems has severely decreased the amount of thriving glades in the area. Furthermore, without the fragile habitat that supports such unique life, the existence of these endemic species are becoming increasingly threatened. 

These factors make it important to protect the remaining habitats and special species that live Middle TN’s cedar glades.

Familiar Friends
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Hidden Springs Trail

328 Cedar Forest Rd, Lebanon, TN 37090

Before we even stepped foot on the trail, I had already caught glimpse of a field spotted green and bright yellow with ragwort flowers. After pulling out my camera to take a few shots, we started off on the Hidden Spring Trail.

At 4.5 miles long, the loop is the longest trail within the park, and should take you between 2 and 3 hours to complete- depending on how many times you stop to awe at the flora and fauna.

As we made our way through the wooded trail, the scenery turned from a lush green to desert-like browns and then back to bright green again. The trail’s path through old hickory forest and cedar glades and woodlands creates a back-and-forth habitat that made us feel in two worlds at once.

 At the start of our hike we spotted lots of blooming flowers, including trillium, rue anemone, toothwort, and mayapple (pictured in this order, clockwise, below). All of these species are characteristic of the deciduous forests across Middle TN, and all contribute something new and beautiful to the blooming forest floor. 

Fun fact: did you know that mayapple, which grows in colonies, is actually comprised of one connected root system? While much of the plant is toxic when consumed in large quantities, the “apple” fruit that grows from the flower after its bloom can be used for jellies and preserves!

Desert Happenings
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Hidden Spring Trail

328 Cedar Forest Rd, Lebanon, TN 37090

As we got into the cedar glade, however, the ground beneath us began to change. The thin soil was covered by a mustardy-green lichen, and we started spotting new wildflowers and plants. 

Some of these plants stood out as desert beings. Yucca and prickly pear growing in the forests of Tennessee?! We spotted a few succulents through the brush and stopped in awe to take photos of these plants that made me feel like I was backpacking through the southwest instead of out on an afternoon stroll only an hour away from Nashville.

There were other blooming flowers in this deserty terrain, though, that I wouldn’t have known to look out for as unique to the cedar glades. We came across a scattering of Houstonia caerulea, better known as Quaker Ladies, whose bright yellow centers shone in the sun. This plant is adapted to grow only in the thin, rocky soil of cedar glade habitat, adding a pop of color to the muted forest floor.


We also spotted a patch of Southwestern Mock Vervain. This plant, whose flowers bloom a bright purple in the spring, is typically native to desert habitats in Southwestern United States. The thin, dry soil of the cedar glade, however, allows this plant to flourish here too.

Where’s the Water?
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Hidden Spring Trail

328 Cedar Forest Rd, Lebanon, TN 37090

As we transitioned back out of the cedar glade habitat, the ground becoming greener again, I couldn’t help but notice that we hadn’t crossed any bodies of water yet. Those who are well-versed on the hikes of Tennessee know that most trails– if they don’t have a bridge– require some type of water crossing, even if it’s just getting the bottom of your feet wet as you wade across a stream.

Cedars of Lebanon State Park has plenty of running water; it’s just underground. As we made our way through the second half of the route, we started to notice large holes scattering the ground off the trail. Much of the state park’s land is located on a karst system, with underground caves and streams.

Glimpses into this cave system can be seen in sinkholes throughout the park, including the one for which the trail is named. This “hidden spring”– carefully sectioned off to prevent any unsuspecting hikers from tumbling down inside– looks like a deep well, complete with the sound of water rushing at the bottom of it. 

A sinkhole along the trail

While the majority of the park’s water runs through these underground streams, there are a few wet weather surface streambeds that make their appearance throughout the trail.

Though these cave openings and sinkholes are exciting to see, make sure you practice responsible recreation by staying on the path of the trails to help protect this fragile habitat and keep yourself safe.

Book Break
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Harper’s Books

107 S Cumberland St, Lebanon, TN 37087

After our hike, we were ready for a meal and a rest. We hopped back in the car and made the 15 minute drive to the town of Lebanon. 

Before grabbing a bite, we decided to venture around the town square. The historic buildings marking the streets of downtown Lebanon feel like straight out of a western movie and offer much to explore in terms of shopping for antiques, collectable, and other boutique gifts. 

We decided to rest our legs by heading into Harper’s Books, located right off the town square. This independent bookstore is the only one in town, and offered a selection of new and used books, along with book club events to engage the community of local bookworms. I plopped down in comfy chair in the corner of the shop with a book and gave my feet a rest while I browsed a selection for my next read.

Photo courtesy of Harper’s Books

Dinner at Al Basha
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Al Basha Restaurant and Lounge

203 S Maple St, Lebanon, TN 37087

Our stomachs were growling and it was time to listen to them. There are lots of great restaurants in Lebanon, but we decided to satisfy our cravings for rich Middle Eastern food by heading down the road to Al Basha Restaurant and Lounge. 

Al Basha offers a selection of items from the Middle Eastern cuisine, including kabobs, gyros, and falafel. After enjoying a chicken shawarma and a cup of strong Turkish coffee to kick up my energy levels a notch, we left feeling full and delighted by our choice.

Photo courtesy of giffconstable on Flickr

Treats and Sweets
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Main Street Mercantile and Creamery

128 Public Square, Lebanon, TN 37087

After our dinner, we headed back to the town square for our last stop of the evening: Main Street Mercantile and Creamery. 

This store doubles as a boutique and ice cream shop (one of the best combos in my opinion!) and offers cones, floats, and shakes alongside its line of local TN brands.

After grabbing a sweet treat and browsing the goodies, we headed back out for a final stroll around the square before getting back into the car to drive home.

Photo courtesy of Main Street Mercantile and Creamery