Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Snow Trillium Strikes Again!

A real rite of spring for me, and probably others, is witnessing the flowering of our earliest trillium to bloom, Trillium nivale, the Snow Trillium. Aptly named, it thrusts forth from the ground so early that the plants may occasionally get buried by spring snows. It often blooms in late March, but this year seemed to be about a week later.

Snow Trillium has a real history in Ohio. It was first collected and described to science by the prolific and intrepid pioneer botanist, John Riddell, in 1834 somewhere along the banks of the Scioto River near Columbus. Snow Trillium populations still persist in this area, although it is likely that Riddell's type locality (type localities are sites where a species was first collected and described) has been destroyed.

This sheet contains Riddell's original, or type, collection of Snow Trillium. Although this material, collected in 1834, may be 178 years old it still looks good and is holding up fine. Collections of animals and plants are vital repositories for researchers, and are now becoming even more relevant than ever. With increased sophistication in our ability to analyze DNA, these old specimens can offer up fantastic and previously unknown information. This specimen is part of the New York Botanical Garden's huge collection of type specimens.

We'll look at fresh, growing Snow Trillium in just a moment.

I went to a site in Adams County that harbors the largest population of Snow Trillium in Ohio, by
a good measure. There must be several thousand growing along a beautiful section of a small creek, in an area where the limestone pokes near the surface. This trillium likes sweet soil, and limestone bedrock is where they do best, at least on our area.

Of course, there are many other interesting plants to be seen in such a site, and it would have been inappropriate to ignore those.

Just starting to awake, this is a young rosette of American Columbo, Frasera caroliniensis. Sometimes known as Monument Plant, this strange member of the gentian family can grow to five feet or so in height when it blooms - sometimes much taller! A flowering columbo is truly a spectacle. The inflorescence is copiously bedecked with small, greenish-white flowers speckled with maroon. Most years, non-flowering rosettes greatly outnumber flowering plants in a colony, but in big years many plants bloom simultaneously.

Always a crowd-pleaser, the Hepatica was abundant. One of our earliest spring wildflowers, Hepatica flowers come in different hues, but most of the ones at this site were white. This color form has been described as forma candida (means shining white), purple flowered plants have been described as forma purpurea, and there have been other divisions. However, they all grade insensibly into one another and probably don't warrant any specific recognition.

The thick, semi-evergreen liver-spotted leaf of this Hepatica plant can be seen in the lower right corner. From that, we can identify this species as Hepatica nobilis var. acuta, or if you prefer, Sharp-lobed Hepatica. There is another distinct and common variety, obtusa, which has more rounded tips to leaves. At one time, they were considered distinct species but most authorities now submerge them into the broad Hepatica nobilis, which ranges throughout North America and Eurasia.

Blue-flowered forms of Hepatica are real show-stoppers, one of the more spectacular plants to be found in the woods.

Finally, here are some Snow Trilliums. Our most diminutive trillium, the flowers are quite flimsy and the petals are almost as if made from paper. The bluish-green leaves are close to the ground, and are quite showy in their own right. These little members of the lily family have a rather small overall range, and populations tend to be widely scattered and local. It certainly isn't a common species here in Ohio, and one pretty much has to know where to go to look to find them.
This flower on this older plant is just starting to become suffused with pink, a sign that it is on the way out. Some evidence suggests that trillium are triggered to begin morphing to pink after they have been pollinated. If true, this may be the plant's way of telling insect pollinators not to waste their time - someone's been here, done that.


Anonymous said...

That young rosette looks like an interesting plant

Mel said...

Beautiful Trilliums, thanks for the information!

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