Thursday, April 28, 2011

Those Tricky Trillium

Sloping hillside carpeted with Trillium grandiflorum

Of all the beautiful and enchanting spring ephemeral wildflowers that carpet the forests and woodlots of Ohio this time of year it's the Trillium that make my heart beat the fastest.  Trillium, Wake-robin, Stinking them what you want, I call them all perfect.  In our lush and diverse state we have/had eight species that call our fertile soil home.

Trillium recurvatum (T)
Trillium recurvatum (T) - yellow form


Of the eight, three are currently listed on Ohio's threatened/endangered species list.  Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) is extripated, meaning it is no longer known to exist inside our borders; Prairie Trillium (T. recurvatum) is threatened and only known in the extreme southwest corner in Hamilton and Clermont counties; and the breath-taking Painted Trillium (T. undulatum) which is endangered and only found in Ohio's most northeasterly county of Ashtabula.  Another uncommon species of Trillium is Red Trillium (T. erectum) which is predominately found in the unglaciated eastern half of the state.  I do not have any pictures of this plant in my database/catalog which will hopefully change over the weekend during Flora-Quest down in Adams and Scioto counties.

Trillium nivale
Trillium nivale

While not on the state list, least not yet, Snow Trillium (T. nivale) is a relatively rare species only found in scattered, local populations in the southwestern quarter of the state where limestone bedrock is quite common.  I did a separate post on the earliest and smallest of Ohio's Trillium a ways back that you can read if you click here.

Trillium grandiflorum

Next up is the species of wildflower that represents Ohio as our state wildflower.  Large-flowered Trillium (T. grandiflorum) is a large Trillium that can be found in just about every county in Ohio and is one of the best signs of Spring in full swing.  It's large, wavy margined snow white petals twist together with the striking golden anthers poking out to add some 'bling'.  Once pollinated the flowers begin to turn gradually darker shades of pink, perhaps to let its insect friends know they came too late to the party.  Despite how numerous and common these flowers may seem, never pick this or any species of Trillium.  It can take upwards of a decade for a plant to reach flowering maturity and it'd be a shame for all that time and hard work to go down the drain in an instant at the hands of an uncaring hiker/passerby.

Trillium sessile

Another very common species to our state is the Sessile Trillium (T. sessile).  Also called Toadshade Trillium, I prefer to ignore that name as there is nothing 'toady' about this casual but fun species.  Many people may come across this plant and think they have found the much more rare T. recurvatum (shown above), noticing how similar the flowers look.  It's pretty easy to tell the two apart when you look at the leaves.  Sessile Trillium got its name for having sessile leaves.  Sessile means 'attached directly by the base, without a stalk or peduncle'.  So these leaves attach directly to the stem of the plant while if you look above at T. recurvatum it's easy to see the leaves hanging down and having a clear, defined petiole (stalk).

Hillside covered with Trillium flexipes
Trillium flexipes

Now for the last species and biggest reason why I wanted to do this post.  Of all the species of Trillium in Ohio, this final species is in my opinion the most varied and sometimes difficult to correctly identify.  Drooping Trillium (T. flexipes) is appropriately named for its flower frequently drooping, unseen below the large three leaves.  T. flexipes is commonly misidentified as the previously mentioned Nodding Trillium (T. cernuum) and I can understand why.  Both look strikingly similar and it comes down to the extremely tedious task of measuring the lengths of the filaments and anthers to correctly differentiate the two.  Remember though, T. cernuum was only collected once in Ohio in Lake county way back in 1879 and has never been seen within our borders again, so finding it in Ohio would be an amazing botanical find.  If it were to ever happen you can put all your chips in on it being found in the northeastern quarter of the state.

Trillium flexipes
Trillium flexipes


Above are photographs of your standard, run-of-the-mill T. flexipes flower.  White petals, white ovary and white/cream anthers all point to Drooping Trillium.  In the past few years of living down in southeastern Ohio I have found one of the best colonies of this plant I've ever seen.  A moist, rich north-facing slope harbors hundreds and hundreds of these plants under the shade and watchful eyes of Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Basswood (Tilia americana) and Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava).  The reason I love this spot is not only for it's pure intrinsic value and sheer size of the population but for the number of color variants scattered within.

Trillium flexipes - maroon form
Trillium flexipes - maroon form

Stunning, transcendent and always a crowd pleaser is the uncommon maroon/deep red colored variants of T. flexipes.  Still keeping the white ovary and anthers, this form ranks very high on my list of 'most anxiously awaited' each year since I discovered their existence several spring's ago.  Not only does the color vary from plant to plant but so can the size, shape and reflex of the petals (this specific one shows the typical size/form).

Trillium flexipes - pink ovary form
Trillium flexipes - blotchy red/white form

Also hiding amongst its more conventional brethren in this particular population are T. flexipes variants that exhibit the normal white petals and anthers but a pink colored ovary.  Of the ones showing off this color difference, the one pictured above was about as 'pink' as it got.  Most just showed small amounts of pink at the tip of the ovary or back at the base.  I'm sure somewhere some plants exist where the ovary is a much darker pink/red.  The final variation I found this spring was the intermediate red/white form.  I guess its genes couldn't make up their minds on what color to be and chose a healthy mixture of both.  It's clearly not as pure maroon/red as the one from above but obviously not pure white.

None of these variations existed with any high frequency.  I'd say for every 15-20 plants in bloom, one would show one of the above color differences.  I've also noticed depending on what population you are observing the peduncle (flower stalk) may be very droopy (such as just about all the ones from this local population) to fully erect.  When the peduncle is erect and standing straight up at attention is when this species can really throw you for a loop; the drooping is a pretty reliant characteristic to go by for those who know what they are looking for.
I know this was a bit of a long post but I'd been meaning to do one dedicated to these amazing plants for a while and had a lot of fun with it.  If you, my faithful followers enjoyed reading this half as much as I did writing it I think it all turned out ok!  Now, time to pack and prepare for Flora-Quest, a weekend romp through Adams and Scioto counties with some of the best botanists in the region.  Life species, orchids and other gorgeous rarities await!  Rain, rain stay away!  See you on the other side with some hopefully awesome postings :)
* Kelly of Red and the Peanut blog fame coincidentally did a similar post featuring her always fantastic and mesmerizing photography.  Several of her images reminded me of a few I took today but didn't post.  I guess I'll share them after all since I absolutely loved her results.  So here's a couple extra photographs to end the post!

Trillium flexipes - macro shot focusing on the pollen covered anthers

Trillium flexipes - these flowers just never get old to my lens!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Itsy Bitsy Spider Went Up the...Pussytoes?

 On my way home this past Easter weekend I decided to make a quick pit stop at one of the most impressive little slices of Ohio natural history in my neck of the woods.  In-between N. Market and N. Mulberry Streets in downtown Logan, Ohio just across from St. John's Catholic church is the aptly named Old Logan Cemetery.  I'm a big fan and seeker of old cemeteries because they usually house some of Ohio's most behemoth and primordial trees and Old Logan holds a winner.

I've been focusing on observing and photographing as many of Ohio's Oak (Quercus spp.) species in flower this Spring as possible.  So far I've observed seven species with at least six more still on Andrew's botanical most wanted list.  As with most large trees, finding a specimen with low enough branches to get adequate, detailed macro shots is quite the task and I knew exactly which one to choose for White Oak (Q. alba).

Quercus alba - White Oak
Quercus alba - White Oak

I arrived a bit too early to catch this monstrosity in bloom.  It was just barely starting to leaf out on some of the twigs and branches but there's never a wasted experience when in the presence of this crown jewel.  I've never seen ANY tree in Ohio with as stout and thick a trunk as this.  I've yet to remember to measure it when there but 6+ feet in diameter is a conservative estimate.  If only trees like this could talk.  I'm sure it shaded some passing Native American hunting or war parties with it's broad shoulders and served as a major landmark for early settlers and pioneers.  It's weathered centuries of nature's ice, wind and rain; survived the ax and saw of the white man and continued to send its roots ever deeper to eat earth and drink water.  Its true age is a mystery to me but 300+ years is probably a conservative guesstimate.  Ancient, gnarled trees like this really are individuals that have their own unique scars and character to their form and appearance.  I can only imagine what it was like to be in primeval Ohio, weaving in and out of similar leviathans of the open, park-like Oak-Hickory forests of old.  I know what you're thinking though.  What does this (as awesome as it may be) have anything to do with the curious title that lured me into reading this post anyways?  It doesn't really but how could I not mention such a splendid living relic from the past before getting to the point.

Antennaria neglecta
Antennaria neglecta

Like many old cemeteries, Old Logan was filled several different species of common Spring wildflowers.  Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica), Common Blue Violets (Viola sororia), Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) and White Trout-lilies (Erythronium albidum) were all present but it was the very cool and interestingly diecious Field Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) that caught my attention.  Being diecious, there are separate male and female plants.  Above is the male staminate plant with its orange-brown anthers protruding out like an insects sensory feelers.

Antennaria neglecta ♀
Antennaria neglecta ♀

Growing in patches not too far away from its male counterparts, the female pistillate flowers were in full bloom waiting to catch passing pollen on the wind like a small child catches a firefly from the warm, June night air.  Oddly enough the female plants of A. neglecta can produce viable seed even without fertilization from the nearby staminate plants.  I know I still haven't gotten to the point and I can't help but feel like the narrator from the cinema classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail that is berated by his audience with a hearty, "Get on with it!".  And get on with it I will do!

Antennaria neglecta♀ with Spider

As I moved in for a closer, more intimate shot with a pistillate inflorescence I was met with a surprise visitor through my viewfinder, sitting on top of the flower styles.  I'm no entomologist so what specific species of arachnid this is I have no idea but rest assured he was tiny!  The head of pistillate flower clusters on this A. neglecta was only the size of a quarter so judge the size of this guy as you may.  I always love catching glimpses into the countless diminutive worlds we overlook and ignore on a daily basis and this was quite the treat.  I'm very pleased with the way this photograph turned out.  I took the shots without any high hopes of it being a success, macrophotography is something I'm still trying to master years into it.  So now the title makes sense and everyone can breathe again, I know you were on the edge of your seats the entire time :)