Saturday, May 25, 2013

Apple #636: Sessile Trillium

I'm going to be away from the internet on Sunday, so I thought I'd give you a little Daily Apple for your Memorial Day weekend.  Let me tell you about a plant I noticed for the first time recently.

It's called the Sessile Trillium.

Sessile Trillium. You can just make out, inside the arching petals, the stamen standing straight up.
(Photo by the Apple Lady. For some reason, when I uploaded my photos, the colors got over-bright. Not sure why that happened.)

  • Some people know this flower as Toadshade, I think because its leaves are so large and mottled, it looks like a place where toads might take shelter.
  • Other people might call it the Wake Robin.  It blooms in early spring, before the trees have leafed out, and when the robins begin to sing their spring songs.
  • When I first saw this plant, I caught my breath.  Maybe because the flower is dark, or maybe because it grows low to the ground, it seemed like it was some kind of treasure growing secretly in the woods, and I happened to be lucky enough to notice it. 
  • I also thought the flower hadn't fully blossomed yet and that's why the petals hadn't opened.  But according to my wildflowers book, that's how the petals stay.
  • The petals stay closed around the stamen (sensitive reproductive part) in order to protect the pollen from rain.  How sweet is that?
  • Actually, the flower does not have a sweet fragrance, but in fact may smell faintly of rotting meat. :(  This is to attract the bugs that pollinate it, which are beetles and ants and flies.
  • The sessile trillium has 3 petals, maroon in color, and 3 leaves.  The word trillium refers to the number three.  The sessile part means attached directly to the base with no stalk.  I think that refers to the way the leaves and the flower grow together, both attached at the same place. 
  • It likes woodlands where there's a mix of sun and shade.  It also likes the ground to be very rich and loamy, where dead leaves tend to pile up, or near wetlands.
  • If you see one, look around carefully because you'll probably see another close by, and then another not far away.  They tend to spread out across an area.
  • It grows in the Midwest and a few Eastern and Atlantic states.  In some of those locations, it's a threatened species. In others, it's endangered.
  • Deer really like to munch on trillium, but sometimes they miss this species because the darker flower helps to camouflage it against the leaves. (Deer are color-blind.)
  • Also, since they plants tend to like wetlands, and wetlands continue to be turned into other types of environments, the plants have fewer places to grow.
  • Another thing that threatens these plants is the fact that they take a long time to grow.  The seeds take 2 years to germinate.  Once the plant has found its way up through the soil to the air, it takes another 2 to 3 years to mature and produce flowers.  Lots of things can happen in that 4- to 5-year span that ruin the plant's chances of reproducing.
  • So the petals have adapted by protecting the plant's pollen as much as possible.

Here you can see how the petals are arched over the reproductive parts, and there is open space between the petals.  You can also get a better idea of how the leaves and the petals are all attached at the same place.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • If you see one of these, do not pick it.  It's worked to hard to get here, so let it keep doing its thing and hopefully it will be able to generate more of these secret treasures in the woods.  
  • Instead of taking the flower with you, take a photo, and you'll be able to admire it at your leisure any time.
P.S. I can't recommend this book highly enough. The pages on the left hand side are full-color photos and the facing pages describe the plant.  Everything is organized by flower color, so it's really easy to use.

Robert L. Henn, Wildflowers of Ohio, Second Edition

Robert L. Henn, Wildflowers of Ohio, Second Edition
Illinois Wildflowers, Sessile Trillium
Ball State University Field Station and Environmental Education Center, Sessile Trillium
USDA Plants Profile, Trillium sessile L. toadshade

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