A tale of four Trilliums

Spring is in full swing here in Ohio and I have been lucky enough to find four of the eight or so species of Trillium which occur here in Ohio.

Trillium were once placed in the lily family, Liliaceae, until molecular work showed this family as problematic and taxonomists decided to break it up into many smaller families. Trillium is now considered a member of Melanthiaceae, the bunchflower family which also contains the famous Paris japonica, the species with the largest genome of any plant known. Its genome is over 50 times larger than the human genome (1).

A few weeks ago a friend of mine gave me a tip on where to find one of the more rare species, Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale), which is considered vulnerable in Ohio meaning it is at risk of becoming endangered. Because of this I won’t disclose where I found it. This is a very early flowering species and sometimes begins blooming while there is still snow on the ground, thus its common name.


The next Trillium I saw in bloom was the delightfully named Toadshade (Trillium sessile). Toadshade gets its latin name from the fact that its flower is sessile, or unstalked. Their leaves tend to be dappled with dark and light green patches. It is also known for its unpleasant smelling flowers which are fly pollinated. This plant is fairly common across Ohio and the Metro parks around Columbus, such as Battelle Darby Creek where I found this mutant Toadshade I have taken to calling a “quadrillium”

Next, on the advice of another friend I went to Clifton Gorge in Yellow Springs Ohio. There were tones of spring ephemerals in bloom including Sharp Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) , Early meadow rue (Thalictrum dioicum), Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), Miterwort (Mitella diphylla), Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum), and many others. Altogether I saw three species of trillium at this site, Toadshade (T. sessile), Large flowered trillium (T. grandiflorum), and drooping trillium (T. flexipes). Large flowered trillium has a special place in my heart as it grows all along the roadside in northern Michigan and is usually in bloom for memorial weekend when my family all go up to our cabin near Lewiston. They can sometime display a pinkish coloration and their seeds have specialized structures called eliasomes which attract ants to help with dispersal (2).

Drooping trillium (T. flexipes), not to be confused with their more northern relative Nodding Trillium (T. cernuum), have conspicuously large ovaries and curly stigmas. Their flowers point downward as their name suggests, and they can sometimes be red in color. I saw these blooming yesterday both at Clifton gorge and at one of my favorite plant spots in Ohio, Cedar bog.

The end of April is the peak blooming time for almost all species of Trillium in Ohio, so it is a good time to go out and see them before they finish blooming.

Sources: 1, 2

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