150 miles (240 km) and 7 Trillium species — 2018-04-13

Friday the 13th! Supposed to be “unlucky”? Well, I had a pretty good day this past Friday. It was a long day — 7 hours and 150 miles (240 km), which took me into Polk County, North Carolina, and Greenville and Pickens Counties in South Carolina. There were 4 sites that I visited — each of which I have visited this time of year in previous years. There were no big surprises in store, just loads of gorgeous Trillium flowers.

Trillium grandiflorum Trillium grandiflorum

I visited 4 sites in the following order:

Pearson Falls Road, Polk County, North Carolina
Hwy. 25 roadside, Greenville County, South Carolina
Hwy. 288 road-cut, Pickens County, South Carolina
Nine Times Preserve, Pickens County, South Carolina

Pearson Falls Road:

This particular site is a favorite of many naturalists because it is a fine example of the rich cove forests which are prime haunts for myriad Spring wildflowers. The road leads to Pearson Falls Preserve, a favorite attraction to upwards of 20,000 visitors each year. It is a favorite of mine because of the Trillium species and other wildflowers which line the roadside and hillsides along the North Pacolet River for almost 1 mile (1.6 km). On this visit, I photographed 4 Trillium species: Trillium grandiflorum or Large-flowered Trillium, Trillium cuneatum or Little Sweet Betsy, Trillium erectum or Red Trillium, and Trillium simile or Smooth White Trillium.

Here are images of some of the thousands of Trillium grandiflorum flowers along the road:

Trillium grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum Trillium grandiflorum
Trillium grandiflorum Trillium grandiflorum

This species is found in very large numbers farther north decreasing in quantity farther south, so any occurrence in the extreme Southern Appalachian Mountains is a welcome site, indeed. One interesting characteristic of this particular species is that the flower petals open as bright white but fade to a rosy pink as the flower ages. So the pink ones pictured above (including the first image in this blog) are older flowers — probably a week or so old. It is among the largest of our Trillium species, with flowers around 2.5 inches (6.25 cm) across. It is a “pedicellate” Trillium species, which means that the flower is held up from the stem by a stalk. The other type of Trillium species is “sessile”, which means that the flower is borne directly on the stem and has no supporting pedicel or stalk.

The second Trillium species I photographed at this location is the fairly common, Trillium cuneatum or Little Sweet Betsy. This is usually the first of the Trillium species to bloom down our way — sometimes as early as late February. Some of the sites in the Southern Appalachian Mountains will have hundreds of thousands of these plants in bloom at the same time. What a show! But today, there were very few that were still in good shape. Here are a couple of shots of this species:

Trillium cuneatum Trillium cuneatum

One misunderstood feature of Trillium species is the “leaves” which are actually bracts. The name, Trillium connotes “three” — 3 petals, 3 sepals, and 3 bracts on a single stem. On very rare occasion, one can find Trillium plants with 4, 5, or even 6 sets of these structures.

The third Trillium species at Pearson Falls Road is Trillium erectum or Red Trillium. However, the plants growing at this site are the white form of this species:

Trillium erectum Trillium erectum
Trillium erectum Trillium erectum

The final Trillium species I photographed at the Pearson Falls Road site is Trillium simile or Smooth White Trillium. It is the last to bloom In the area, and I found only one flower that was open:

Trillium simile

Hwy. 25 roadside:

After finishing up at the site, and after photographing several other spectacular Spring wildflowers (which may appear in a subsequent blog), I left for a very unusual site along Hwy. 25 in extreme northeastern Greenville County, South Carolina. This site is one of the very few sites for Trillium grandiflorum (similar to images which I have just posted). There were many hundreds of these in bloom, but I concentrated on two other, much different looking Trillium species: Trillium vaseyi or Vasey’s Trillium and the rare, erect form of Trillium catesbaei or Catesby’s Trillium. This latter species is being studied and may very well be a new species! I know of only two other sites for this rare species, one at Jones Gap State Park in Greenville, County and one large site in Rabun County, Georgia.

First, let’s have a look at Trillium vaseyi or Vasey’s Trillium. It is undoubtedly our largest Trillium species, not only in the size of the flowers, but also in the size of the spread of the bracts. The flowers can be upward of 3 inches (7.5 cm) wide, and the spread of the bracts can be close to 12 inches (30 cm) across! This particular Trillium species is pedicellate, but the leather-like flowers nod (hang under the bracts):

Trillium vaseyi Trillium vaseyi

Trillium vaseyi

As with all nodding Trillium species, this one is difficult to photograph without tilting the flower back on the stem.

Finally, there are the erect forms of Trillium catesbaei. Later in this blog report, I will show the “typical”, nodding, Trillium catesbaei for comparison. While most of the Trillium catesbaei at this particular site were erect ones, there were a few that “almost” nodded:

erect form of Trillium catesbaei erect form of Trillium catesbaei
erect form of Trillium catesbaei erect form of Trillium catesbaei
erect form of Trillium catesbaei erect form of Trillium catesbaei

erect form of Trillium catesbaei

It was time to finish up at this site and head west toward a couple of Trillium sites in Pickens County. On the way, though, I stopped at my favorite bar-b-que spot, Janice’s Bar-b-que Hut on Hwy. 276 in Cleveland, South Carolina. As you probably already know, this is a not-to-be-missed stop along the way. Personally, I believe she serves the best fare anywhere around these parts.

Hwy. 288 road-cut:

After taking my time with lunch, I headed 10 miles (16 km) away to a road-cut on Hwy. 288, just north of Marietta, South Carolina.

I had checked on the plants at this site a week prior, and knew that they would be in great shape. The road cuts through a hillside which contains ultramafic strata. This provides much of the Iron and Magnesium that several unusual species require to thrive. But I was looking for the “typical”, nodding form of Trillium catesbaei or Catesby’s Trillium and an unusual form of Trillium rugelii or Southern Nodding Trillium. The Trillium catesbaei at this site have rather large flowers and show off their rosey-pink color to their best advantage:

Trillium catesbaei Trillium catesbaei

Trillium catesbaei

Across the road from the Trillium catesbaei, there was a large patch of Trillium rugelii or Southern Nodding Trillium. There has been much discussion as to the true identification of this population of Trillium. Normally, Trillium rugelii has a dark ovary and dark stamens, but these particular plants have creamy white ovary and stamens. This would lead, perhaps, to an identification of Trillium cernuum or Trillium flexipes, both of which have nodding white flowers, but neither of which are known to occur in this region. So, it is what it is… Here are some shots of these peculiar flowers:

Trillium rugelii Trillium rugelii
Trillium rugelii Trillium rugelii
Trillium rugelii Trillium rugelii

Trillium rugelii

Nine Times Preserve: (a TNC managed site)

The day was getting late, and I still had one final site to visit. This site is known as Nine Times Preserve in Pickens County, South Carolina. I have written blogs about the plants at this preserve in years past. It is habitat for the early Spring ephemeral, Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lily. It blooms in the thousands along a creek-side trail in early March. Today, I was looking for Trillium discolor or Faded Trillium. It is a Trillium species with very limited range, but when it is located, it is often found in large numbers. It is native to the Savanna River drainage basin of South Carolina and Georgia.

I arrived at the site where I’ve photographed it in previous years and was disappointed when I found it still in tight bud. Bummer! However, across the road was a wooded area which I have never inspected, so I gathered my camera gear and entered the open woods. Soon, I began to see the pale yellow color of flower buds which were beginning to open. The farther I walked into the woods, the more flowers I found. In no time, I was surrounded by patches of plants with open flowers. Here are some shots of these plants:

Trillium discolor Trillium discolor
Trillium discolor Trillium discolor
Trillium discolor Trillium discolor

Trillium discolor

Wow! What a day! I was bone tired after returning home. I’m a bit late getting this post out, because I was lead on a rare plant count on Saturday, and I’m glad I didn’t wait until today, Sunday, to make the trip since it’s been raining all day. It worked out well, and I was anxious to process my Trillium images and write this report.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about these wonderful plants. South Carolina, especially my area of the upstate, is located in the center of much activity for Trillium lovers. Many of the rarest Trillium species can be found within just a couple of hours driving time of my home. Such a set of circumstances cannot be ignored…

Until next time,



  • Ann McCormick

    Wonderful as always!

    April 15, 2018
  • bill

    u hit some “home runs” on this outing………..

    April 15, 2018
  • bill

    you batting 1000 Mr. Jim……..

    April 15, 2018
  • I very much enjoyed the trip through your eyes (and lens)!

    April 15, 2018
  • Lucy

    Superb pictures Jim! Thanks so much!

    April 15, 2018
  • diane

    I hope you post this on the Blue Ridge Naturalist Network FB page. We just had a big discussion over trilliums on a recent walk to Big Creek. One person thinks he found aTrillium flexipes. You can see the photo on the FB page. Thanks!

    April 15, 2018
  • David Anderson

    Spectacular! Thank you for including me in this!

    April 15, 2018
  • Bob Curry

    A seminar on trilliums! Makes us want to spend more time in the Carolinas.

    Burlington, Ontario

    April 15, 2018
  • Great! I had no idea there were so many different species and variants of Trillium! Jim, thank you for sharing your knowledge and adventures.

    May 05, 2018
  • Gena Todia

    Thank you, Jim. Wonderful!

    June 01, 2018
  • Scott Park

    Awesome! Thank you.

    June 18, 2018
  • Matthew Grote

    Great reading! Wonderful images as well.

    November 11, 2018

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