Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Spring Flowers: Giant Trillium

For me, nothing signals the true arrival of spring like the blooming of Trillium grandiflorum (Giant Trillium).  This member of the Lily family grows in what can be large colonies in rich woods all over the eastern United States (except Florida) and can be up to 20 inches tall.  The flowers are often 3-4 inches across with three petals on a stalk above three leafy bracts (a specialized leaf associated with a flower).  They start out crisp and white, like a clean, starched white shirt.  Over time, they turn pink, getting darker as they eventually fade.  Occasionally, flowers will start out light pink when they bloom.  Plants often take 7-10 years to bloom for the first time in the wild. 

Interestingly, ants and other insects play an important role in propagating T. grandiflorum, which is called myrmechory.  Its seed are covered with a type of oil that triggers ants corpse-carrying instincts.  The ants will carry the seeds for some distance, dispersing them further than the plant can itself.  The ants use the oil on the seeds for food.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 A white T. grandiflorum at Thompson Wildlife Management Area in Virginia in 2010.
 A light pink bloom on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road in Shenandoah National Park in April 2011.
 A fading pink bloom at Thompson Wildlife Management Area in April 2010.
A large colony of T. grandiflorum on a hillside on Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park (April 2011)

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