New, undescribed Trillium species in Georgia and some other stuff — 2017-03-05

This will be a rather lengthy blog entry due to the large number of images of this undescribed Trillium species. So sit back and enjoy…

In late February, my friend James Van Horne from Kennesaw, Georgia messaged me and asked if I would be interested in joining a small group to look for an undescribed Trillium species in Elbert County, Georgia. He said that two other friends from Atlanta, Georgia would be going, as well. Those two are Alan Cressler and Steve Bowling. Of course, I said “YES!”. We agreed on a place to meet in Georgia near the Trillium location, and I began making preparations for the trip.

On Sunday, March 5, I packed all my camera gear and drove to the agreed location. It was really good to see those guys again, because it had been months since our last mutual field trip. We made our circuitous drive to a spot next to a large river in Elbert County, Georgia. Alan and I had been to this site In the early summer about a year ago, but we didn’t realize that there were Trillium plants there because they had died back for the season.

Upon reaching the site, almost immediately we began to see the plants in singles and small groups all along the road and stretching into the woods. We wasted no time in getting our camera gear and inspecting the population to find the best plants to photograph. As it turns out, this undescribed species is more variable that any other Trillium species I’ve ever photographed. The range of color forms and petal size and shape is mind-boggling. It’s almost like the entire population is made up of hybrid crosses of other Trillium species. This is probably not the case, because we did not find any identifiable pure species in the area. Here is an image of one of the more unusual flowers we saw in this population:

Undescribed Trillium species Undescribed Trillium species

I would like to be able to show you a representative flower in this population, but it is so remarkably varied, that finding any two of them that are alike is quite a challenge. The following image shows what about 20% of the flowers look like, the rest are just different as you will subsequently see:

Typical Trillium flower from this population

The color is difficult to describe, but to me it looks like a reddish-brown/bronzy color, not unlike many of the Trillium species we have in the region. There are several characteristics that seem to set the plants in this population apart from other known and fully described Trillium species in the region. The first characteristic is the rather broad, green sepal. Here is an example that I found showing an extreme of this characteristic:

Remarkably wide sepals with mottling

The sepals even show some mottling; mirroring the mottling in the leaves. The leaf mottling is typical of the sessile Trillium species in the Southeast.

The second unusual characteristic is one that I’ve not noticed in our other sessile Trilliums, and that is where the tip of the ovary (stigma) protrudes through the surrounding stamens. Here is an example of this characteristic:

Flower showing stigma protruding through the stamens

BTW, don’t you just love the color of the petals of this flower?

The third unusual characteristic is the length of the petals. In a certain way, they strongly resemble those of another Trillium species, Trillium ludovicianum or Louisiana Trillium. It is found in 16 counties in Louisiana, 4 counties in Mississippi, and possibly in western Alabama. It is characterized by long, narrow petals. Here is an example of one with long, narrow petals from the Georgia population of this undescribed Trillium:

Trillium with long, narrow petals

I’m now going to dazzle you (or bore you to death) with lots of images of flowers from this rather large population of Trilliums, hoping to convey the large variation in color and morphology of the flowers:

Undescribed Trillium species Undescribed Trillium species
Undescribed Trillium species Undescribed Trillium species
Undescribed Trillium species Undescribed Trillium species
Undescribed Trillium species Undescribed Trillium species
Undescribed Trillium species Undescribed Trillium species

Undescribed Trillium species

Undescribed Trillium species
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Undescribed Trillium species

And finally, here is one that James Van Horne found which has 4 leaves, 4 sepals, and 4 petals — one could call this one a “Quadrillium”:

Trillium with 4 petals, sepals, and leaves

There are a lot more of these images on my Flickr photostream, so click here if you would like to see them.

As I mentioned in the title of this blog entry, there was some good “other stuff” to be found at this location. Podophyllum peltatum or May Apple was just poking its way through the leaf litter. This is a strange-looking plant, for sure, with an umbrella-like leaf structure. When the plant produces two leaves, side-by-side, it usually produces a single, creamy-white flower between the leaves. The fruit is described as delightfully edible, but I’ve never tried it. Here are some images of some of the plants as they are just coming through the ground to daylight:

May Apple May Apple

The image on the left shows a plant that will produce just a single leaf, while the image on the right shows a plant that will produce two leaves and a single flower, whose bud is barely peeking out between the leaves.

May Apple May Apple

The image on the left shows a plant beginning to open its “umbrella”, while the plant on the right shows a leaf almost fully unfurled. Notice that behind that single, open leaf, there is a plant with two leaves, but the flower bud was either aborted or was removed by a critter.

We walked down the trail just a little bit and saw a large stand of Antennaria plantaginifolia or Pussy Toes, with one flower cluster that hosted a Hoverfly. The leaves of this plant species are covered with wooly hairs which are especially heavy on the top of the leaves:

Pussy Toes Pussy Toes

While I was busying myself with the Pussy Toes, the rest of the crew was moving down the trail. In a few minutes, Alan came back to where I was and said that I should see what they found. About 100 yards (100 meters) down the trail, the ground slopes up and provides habitat for large populations of two white-flowering wildflower species. The first of these is Thalictrum thalictroides or Rue Anemone also known as Wind Flower. Its half-inch (~10 mm) white flowers are borne in clusters at the top of a thin stem. The entire plant is no more than 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 cm) tall, but when it covers a hillside like these did, it looks like a carpet of snow. Here are some images of the Rue Anemone that was growing in profusion:

Rue Anemone Rue Anemone

Rue Anemone

On the hillside above the Rue Anemone were hundreds of Sanguinaria canadensis or Bloodroot. I had been wondering why we had not seen any of them, because the habitat was just perfect to host this species. Here are a few shots of this beautiful wildflower:

Bloodroot Bloodroot

Bloodroot

Bloodroot Bloodroot

The two images above show Hoverflies feasting on the Bloodroot pollen.

While I was photographing the hillside full of white wildflowers, the guys were heading back down the trail toward our vehicles. I finally caught up with them and shortly after I did, James pointed to a small shrub which had knobby protrusions on its branches. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was Asimina parviflora or Dwarf Pawpaw. Something about the tiny, less than half-inch (~10 mm) flowers was odd, though. I had seen the mahogany-brown flowers which are very common, but I had never seen chartreuse-colored flowers for this species. Here were both colors on the same shrub and right next to each other. Below are some sample shots of the oddly colored flowers of this Dwarf Pawpaw shrub:

Dwarf Pawpaw Dwarf Pawpaw

Dwarf Pawpaw

Dwarf Pawpaw

As the trail neared the river, we took a short break and rested on the rocks at the edge of the river. Of course, your faithful blogger is behind the camera:

Taking a break from photography...

View of the river

What a treat it was to get together with these good friends from Georgia. Plus, we got to see and photograph an interesting, undescribed Trillium species as well as other Spring ephemerals. We finally made it back to our vehicles, ate our lunch, and prepared to drive on down and into South Carolina to look for more Trillium species and whatever else Mother Nature had in store for us. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this fabulous field trip.

Until next time,

–Jim

22 comments


  • Michael Drake

    One word for this post – ‘WOW”. Exceptional in every way. Makes me hungry for Spring ephemerals

    March 06, 2017
  • Tony Futcher

    What an exciting trip! A really fascinating plant, beautifully documented.

    Now if someone will do a genetic study to determine its relationship to known species! I do hope to see some further elucidation of the species.

    March 06, 2017
    • Susan Farmer

      We’re working on it. The DNA is more complex that we first thought. *sigh*

      March 13, 2017
  • Diane

    Thanks for the great report and photos. Is it possible to share it to the Blue Ridge Naturalist Network facebook page?

    March 06, 2017
    • Jim

      I’ll be happy to share it after I receive the reply of approval on your FB page.

      –Jim

      March 06, 2017
  • Saw my first Trillium around Lake Lure a couple of years ago. Pretty little thing, right? As usual your photography is marvelous, Jim. Playing on those rocks looks like my kind of adventure!

    March 06, 2017
  • Amazing, and awesome. Thanks!

    March 06, 2017
  • Steve Hill

    Very nice. I recommend that you look through Freeman’s sessile flowered Trillium monograph. Several color forms are not unusual. Great pictures! Looking forward to a SC Trillium trip soon.

    March 06, 2017
  • Wonderful description and photos of your terrific trip and discoveries Jim! I would love to explore that area someday.

    March 07, 2017
  • Daniel McClosky

    Beautiful – some of them very reminiscent of T. maculatum, but with the interesting differences that you point out.

    If you look through Freeman’s monograph of the sessile Trilliums, he points out that the distributions of T. maculatum, T. luteum, and T. ludovicianum form a rough triangle around a more-central T. cuneatum distribution. He emphasizes that there are often intergrading populations at the places where T. cuneatum overlaps with the other three species. He also points out that they could all be combined into a single, more-variable species.

    Maybe this is one of those cases – a population between T. maculatum and T. cuneatum?

    March 07, 2017
    • Steve Hill

      There are many T. luteum around Dalton, GA. I’m not sure how far that is from your site. T. cuneatum tends to be quite variable in N.Georgia – I think that is closer, though your pure yellow form does look like T. luteum. I’m most intrigued by the odd green one!

      March 07, 2017
    • Jim

      We visited the T. luteum site you just mentioned several years ago, and what a place! So thick with Trillium that you could hardly walk without stepping on a plant. That site, which is in north Georgia, is quite far from the two sites we visited on Sunday, which are in central Georgia and central South Carolina.

      March 07, 2017
    • Susan Farmer

      This particuilar Trillium flowers 2-3 weeks earlier than T. cuneatum and is often found in mixed populations. Freeman included one of these “things” in the morphometric analysis in his disssertation. It’s always possible it’s a putative hybrid. We might also need a forma luteum when it gets published.

      March 13, 2017
    • Susan Farmer

      One more thing. Notice the declinate leaves. On a cursory look, this plant is *very* reminiscent of T. nlancifolium. When you look at the stamens, you can clearly see that it’s not that species. Using my collection of keys, it typically keys out to T. ludovicianum (occasionally keys to foetidissimum).

      March 13, 2017
    • Zac Hill

      This could also be interpreted as cuneatum is variable enough to warrant splitting it up into a number of segregate species. The DNA work seems to suggest this as well. Cuneatum from where I grew up in Central NC smell like Juicy Fruit gum. Trillium cuneatum from AL don’t smell so nice. I read a paper which said there were at least 5 genotypes within cuneatum. Freeman just lumped all of the stuff which didn’t fit in with the rest into a variable cuneatum but the nose knows the difference. From my experiences in the SE, there are still a number of taxa waiting to be named and described. Just my 2 cents worth.

      Zac Hill
      Plant Records Specialist/Taxonomist
      Juniper Level Botanic Garden

      March 20, 2017
  • Marcia C Whitmore

    What a fabulous trip! It is certainly spring where you are…and nearly spring in NW Illinois…maybe take the mulch off the cyps next week!

    March 07, 2017
  • Stephanie Baldwin

    Has this undescribed Trillium been observed in other locations?

    March 07, 2017
    • Jim

      Not that I know of, but I’m not in the loop for Georgia Trillium research. I believe that this weird population is being studied, but I don’t know who is doing it.

      March 07, 2017
    • Susan Farmer

      Yes. It’s in Hamilton Co., TN ans westward and down the escarpments into Alabama and Georgia.

      March 13, 2017
  • douglas webb

    How awesome! Super-interesting article. The mutant Trilliums at the Shelby Forest Indian town are all of just one species, but have 3 to 15 petals and leaves.

    March 07, 2017
  • Don Martinson

    Hope those make it into cultivation some day.

    March 08, 2017
  • Susan Farmer

    Nice piece. Awesome photos. I might need to hit you up for reprint rights.

    March 13, 2017

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