Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Trillium Season Is Now Complete!

 With the Nodding Trilliums (Trillium cernuum) coming into bloom this week along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail in Saratoga Springs, the trillium season around this area has reached its culmination. I feared yesterday I had arrived too early to find this elusive wildflower already in bloom, especially when I spied dozens of small trillium leaves bearing neither flowers nor buds.  But after a closer look -- and the lifting of leaves -- I found many in full bloom like the one pictured above.  It looks to be a great year for Nodding Trillium, a wildflower some botanists believe may be becoming more rare in its former range.  But I'm happy to report I found more here than ever before: around 150 specimens (counting seedlings like the tiny ones pictured below) along both sides of the trail.

I probably shouldn't count the Snow Trillium (T. nivale) in this sequence of trillium blooms, since it's not really native to anywhere in New York State.  Its native range is in states more to the south and west of New York.  But a famed local naturalist,  Orra Phelps, once planted a few on her wooded property in neighboring Wilton, and this diminutive and delightful trillium has naturalized there, blooming sometimes as early as late March, while snow still lies in the hollows of the woods. Ordinarily, we New Yorkers would never get to lay eyes on this wee little beauty around here, and I feel very grateful to Orra Phelps that we can.

Our native trillium season started in mid-April this year, when I found the first Red Trillium (T. erectum) dangling its deep-red flowers beneath its trio of bright-green leaves.  Granted, the place I found it was down along Shenantaha Creek near Ballston Lake, in a deep ravine noted as our go-to spot for finding the earliest bloomers.  Although by now, most Red Trilliums have passed their prime, I still occasionally find one in almost-perfect bloom.

It took almost a month after the Red Trillium first made it appearance before the Large-flowered White Trillium (T. grandiflorum) opened its showy blooms in the Skidmore woods here in Saratoga Springs. When this lime-loving trillium finds a place it likes, it doesn't hold back, but spreads its beauty in almost uncountable numbers.  An interesting thing about this flower is that its pristine white petals will turn a lovely shade of pink, after pollination and before the flowers fade.

Here's what the Large-flowered White Trillium will look like after turning pink, a few weeks later:

The same mid-May week we found hundreds of T. grandiflorum abounding in the Skidmore woods, my friend Sue Pierce and I set off to explore the rocky hemlock woods along the north-facing shore of Lake Bonita in Moreau Lake State Park.  If there's any wildflower that can tolerate the deep shade and unfavorable soils of a hemlock forest, it is the Painted Trillium (T. undulatum).  And we were not disappointed.  We did not find abundant numbers, but plenty to make the more-than-two-mile somewhat rugged hike around Lake Bonita worth the effort. Most were just coming into bloom, but in one sunny spot we found quite a few lifting their beautiful rose-blushed white faces to the light.

I'm aware that other species of trillium are native to other parts of our country, but these four -- the Red, the Large-flowered, the Painted, and the Nodding -- are the species native to Saratoga County.  And just in recent years, I have found some trilliums along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail that don't exactly fit the guidebook descriptions of any of these four.  But they DO exhibit characteristics of both the Red Trillium and the Nodding Trillium, two species that share the Bog Meadow habitat and which do have some overlap in blooming time.  Several professional botanists have suggested that these are quite likely a hybrid of these two species, and I have found several specimens that exhibit these characteristics quite differently.  I've found snowy-white flowers with a dark-red pistil, pale-pink flowers that are yellow on the backs of the petals, and this one pictured below, with deep-rose petals suggestive of the Red Trillium, combined  with the white pistil and long-filamented anthers that are diagnostic for a Nodding Trillium.  An interesting phenomenon!

I haven't yet found any trillium hybrids this year.  But some of the trilliums sharing the Nodding Trillium location along Bog Meadow are still in tight bud.  Perhaps they will yet prove to be our hybrids, finally bringing our official trillium season to a close.


Ron Gamble said...

Hi Jackie - I have trouble being sure about red trilliums. Since your flowers of your red trillium identified as T. erectum are below the leaves, do you think maybe it's T. flexipes instead? E.g., from one of OUR respected sources ( :-) )

Ron G.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Ron Gamble, I doubt very much that the photos I claim are Red Trillium ( T. erectum) are T. flexipes instead. For one thing, T. flexipes is a white-flowered trillium, not a red-flowered one, and also a plant that is extremely rare in New York State. In my experience, most Red Trilliums DO dangle their blooms so that they often fall below their leaves. To photograph the flowers, I usually have to bend the plant over or prop the flower atop the leaves. I have heard that T. erectum and T. flexipes have been known to hybridize, and I do believe that the anomalous trilliums I find along this trail are hybrids of T. erectum and T. cernuum. I have found a number of different combinations of traits among these hybrids.

I did look at the link you shared (my friend Andrew Gibson is the author and photographer) and was surprised to note that most of the T. erectums illustrated there show the flowers rather stiffly surmounting the leaves. That is so unlike the T. erectums we find in New York State!

Ron Gamble said...

Hmm - We have red T. flexipes here in Michigan.

I didn't think about the red ones much until I got them confused. Then I started thinking about, "maybe the "erectum" species name came from the pedicel stature"...

I don't know other flower/plant structures of these two well enough to separate these MI red species, e.g. filament lengths/ratios, things like that...