Seeing the rare, Relict Trillium in South Carolina — 2017-03-05

On March 5, 2017, my Georgia friends, James Van Horne, Alan Cressler, Steve Bowling and I visited a site in Aiken County, South Carolina for the rare, Trillium reliquum or Relict Trillium. This site is very near the classic site for this species.

When we arrived, we managed to find a roadside parking area, then retrieved our camera gear and made our way into the woods. Almost immediately, we found a blooming plant. I remembered seeing this species in an isolated site in Georgia a couple of years ago, and these plants looked no different. Being a “bird-in-the-hand” guy, I decided to photograph that flowering plant while the rest of the crew went ahead, looking for additional plants. The hillside of the ravine where the plants grow was quite steep, and I was constantly trying to keep my feet under me. The leaf litter was thick and loose, and reduced the friction I needed to remain upright.

Here is the image of the first plant I spotted:

Trillium reliquum Trillium reliquum

Right off, you will notice the many tiny specks of pollen on the flowers and the leaves. Everything at this site was covered with pollen. It would have been nice if it had rained the previous night, but the woods were pretty dry. The next thing you would notice is that the leaves (really bracts) seem to be lying on the ground. Unlike the similar Trillium decumbens or Decumbent Trillium which really does lie on the ground, Trillium reliquum holds its leaves a couple of inches from the leaf litter.

There is some minor variation in the color of the petals and sepals, but for the most part, the petals are maroon to brownish-maroon, and the sepals are maroon, occasionally streaked with green. A single station in Georgia is known to produce some flowers with yellow-green petals; an occurrence not unusual for most of the maroon, sessile Trillium species. One distinguishing feature of this species is its fragrance. To me and at least one other researcher, it has the odor of spoiled grape juice. Many of the sessile Trillium species have a disagreeable odor, and some have said that this species smells of rotten meat, but the grape “note” still lingers with me.

Once I finished with that first plant, I scurried to join the others. On the way, I came across large numbers of Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lilies scattered up and down the steep hillside. Even though I photographed these recently in the South Carolina upstate area, I couldn’t pass up taking a few photos of the beauties before me. Here are a few shots of the Dimpled Trout Lily:

Dimpled Trout Lily

Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily
Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily

Some of them were already forming seed capsules. This stem supporting the seed capsule becomes lax and lowers the capsule to the forest floor as it ripens:

Dimpled Trout Lily seed capsule

After photographing the Trout Lilies, I wound my way around the hillside to where the rest of the group was busy photographing and studying a rather large population of Relict Trillium. As I stated previously, there is not a lot of variation in this species, so many of the photographs will look like I used the same plant as the subject, but all of them were different plants. Here is a selection of images of the Relict Trillium:

Relict Trillium Relict Trillium
Relict Trillium Relict Trillium
Relict Trillium Relict Trillium

I did manage to find one plant that had yellowish-brown petals:

Relict Trillium with  yellowish-brown petals

And, a couple of images showing more than one flowering plant:

Relict Trillium

Relict Trillium

But I must say that Alan found the best one on our way back to the vehicles:

Relict Trillium

To my eyes, it has the aspect of a waterlily perched on three lily pads. This was definitely the best one we found.

Near the Relict Trilliums, were just a few examples of another Trillium species; Trillium maculatum or Spotted Trillium. This particular species is fairly widespread, being found in many locations from South Carolina to Alabama and down into Florida. It gets its name, Spotted Trillium, from the conspicuously marked leaves. Here is some examples of the Spotted Trilliums that we saw:

Spotted Trillium Spotted Trillium

There’s that pesky pollen all over the petals and leaves. This species is much taller than Relict Trillium, and its petals are long and narrow and a much stronger shade of red. Earlier in this post, I mentioned the spoiled grape juice odor of Trillium reliquum. Well, Trillium maculatum has the fragrance of the banana popsicles I used to eat as a kid — sort an artificial banana flavor — quite distinguishable from spoiled grape juice!

Spotted Trillium

Spotted Trillium

We finally finished up our photography and made our way back to the vehicles. All of us were hungry, so Alan suggested that we make it over to a familiar Mexican restaurant he has visited before. After eating a satisfying evening meal, we said our good-byes and headed off in different directions; Alan, Steve, and James back to Georgia, and myself back to upstate South Carolina.

What a full day of adventure and photography, sharing it with good friends. To be outside, especially in the early Spring when dormant plants are coming alive again, is one of the best ways for me to center myself. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s easy for me to lose all track of time and lose all the worries and anxieties that have accumulated since the last time I was out in the field. There’s much more in store this year, and I intend to make the most of it. I hope you will come along with me and share in the adventure…

–Jim

6 comments


  • Steve Hill

    These are very common next to an apartment complex there, growing with T. maculatum, which is much less common. Also nearby is Waldsteinia fragarioides – quite uncommon. Nice site. Nice images.

    March 07, 2017
    • Jim

      You are correct, Steve! You just mentioned the “classic” location I referred to in the blog post. The location we visited was not far away…

      March 07, 2017
  • sonnia hill

    Jim, such a wonderful trip you had with your friends. Your trilliums and trout lilies are so beautiful. Love reading your blog posts.

    March 07, 2017
  • Jane Ratterree

    Oh, my! What beauties.

    March 07, 2017
  • John Robinson

    Thanks for posting! Now I have to compare my T. underwoodii to your T. reliquum – just to be sure which I photo’ed.

    March 08, 2017
  • I am always confused with the common name of spotted trillium (T. maculatum) – as if that were the only one that had spots. There are several species that look very similar in that regard! Beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing.

    March 12, 2017

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