Friday, February 21, 2014

Native Species Profile - Nodding Trillium

Despite the current weather, Spring is not far away.  With the arrival of Spring, wildflowers will not be far behind.  Although a few flowers will begin blooming as early as late February - I'm talking about you, Skunk Cabbage - the main bloom of Spring ephemerals will peak between the third week of April and the second week of May. 

One of my favorite spring wildflowers is the Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum).  Most Trillium species are known for their large showy blooms that rise above the plants whorl of three leaves.  Of these, the Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) is the showiest and most well known.  Their large white blooms can be seen from a great distance in the Spring woodland.

The large showy flower of a Large-flowered Trillium

The Nodding Trillium is different.  Like other trilliums, it sports a whorl of three leaves.  It also has flowers with three petals and three sepals.  However, instead of having a flower that rises above its leaves, the flower on the Nodding Trillium is hidden on a stalk that droops below the leaves.  The opening of the flower points down toward the ground. 

The cernuum in Trillium cernuum means "nodding or drooping" in Latin.  Although the plant can grow quite large (6 - 24 inches tall), this drooping habit makes these flowers much harder to spot in the woods than other species of trilliums.  To really see this flower you have to get down on the ground and look up at it.

Despite being hidden, the flower of the Nodding Trillium is quite large - up to 1.5 inches across.  The three sepals are green and the three petals are white.  Both the sepals and petals curl upward, exposing the flower's pistil and six stamen.  The pollen covered anthers (tips of the stamen) are pink-purple colored.  This anther color is one of the identifying marks of this flower and distinguishes it from the similar looking Drooping Trillium (T. flexipes) which bears white anthers.

Nodding Trillium - not the up-curled petals and pinkish-purple anthers
Like other Trillium species, Nodding Trillium often forms wide colonies of plants.  The colonies probably spread outward by the activities of ants which carry the seeds into their burrows to consume a fleshy coating on the seeds before discarding the hard seeds in their midden (garbage) piles.  The colony of nodding trillium that I have been observing for  several years has probably doubled or tripled in size since I discovered it.

Part of a colony of Nodding Trillium

The Nodding Trillium prefers a more damp habitat than the Large-flowered Trillium.  While the Large-flowered Trillium grows in rich, moist deciduous woodlands, the Nodding Trillium prefers cool wet woods like the borders of swamps and floodplains.  It is listed by the USDA as a Faculative Wetland species - meaning it is usually found in wetlands, but may occur in upland habitats.  The USDA lists the Nodding Trillium as occurring in 22 northeastern states (south as far as Virginia and reaching west as far as the eastern counties in the Dakotas) and across Canada from Newfoundland to Saskatchewan.

Nodding Trillium - note the white flower drooping below the whorl of three leaves.

Across its range, Nodding Trillium blooms between May and late-June.  In Mid-Michigan, I can usually find it blooming during the first or second week of May.  In any patch of Nodding Trillium, it is typically only the largest plants which bloom.  Producing flowers (and fruit) requires a large expenditure of energy and it may take several years for a plant to store up enough energy to produce a bloom.

Nodding Trillium - note the upturned petals and purple anthers

After the flowers are pollinated, a bright red fruit develops.  This fruit will be oval-shaped and up to 1 1/8 inches long.  This fruit will commonly persist on the plant into early fall. I commonly find them in September.

Nodding Trillium leaves and fruit

Nodding Trillium fruit

Basic Information

Nodding Trillium 
Trillium cernuum

Height:  6-24” tall

Habitat:  wet deciduous woods

Flower Color:  white

Bloom Time:  May –late June

No comments:

Post a Comment