Share it! Science : See it? Share it! Red Trillium

See it? Share it! Red Trillium

A couple of weeks ago I was very excited to see the red trillium blooming in the forest along our road. These are beautiful flowers with a fascinating life cycle. In many areas they have protected status because they are rare. You'll recognize them by their pointed petals and leaves in sets of three- the reason for "tri-" in the name trillium.

Leaves and petals in groups of 3. ©SBF 2015
There are several different types of trillium, but those we have growing along our road are red trillium, Trillium erectum. The reason these flowers are so rare is that they only grow their above-ground parts: leaves, stems and flowers, during the springtime. The remainder of the year only the underground root, in this case a rhizome, remains. This means the plant can only go through photosynthesis, the process in which is makes its food, during this short window of time. If you pick the flower it cannot make food to produce a flower the following year, and therefore will die.

Ants help the trillium flower to spread their seeds. The ants are attracted to the fruit left behind when the beautiful flower wilts. The ants bring the fruit to their colony to eat, but then throw the seed portion "away" in their "trash" pile. The ants are helpful to the flower by planting their seeds for them!
Red trillium flowers. ©SBF 2015
In my opinion, the trillium flower is one that you should enjoy where it is growing, rather than picking. You can check to see the threatened and endangered status of plants in your area through the USDA's Threatened and Endangered Plants Database.

If you interested in learning how to identify wildflowers, you might want to check out the field guides below. (affiliate links)


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