Part 1 of 2 — A kaleidoscope of Trilliiums on the Blue Ridge Parkway — 2018-05-05

Early this past Saturday morning, my two good buddies, Alan Cressler and Steve Bowling from Atlanta, Georgia met me at my house, and we headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway via the Pisgah National Forest. We had such a great day, that I’m going to have to split the trip report into two parts. The first part will cover the Trillium images only. The second part will cover the remainder of the Spring wildflower images.

You might remember that my last report showed you some Trillium hybrids that I found in the Pisgah National Forest. I believe that this a location very similar to the one that Fred Case mentioned on page 139 of his book, Trilliums, except I believe that the ones I found must be hybrids between Trillium vaseyi or Vasey’s Trillium and Trillium erectum or Red Trillium. I will leave it to you, Dear Reader, to form your own opinion. However, I must mention that there are pure strains of both Trillium vaseyi and Trillium erectum very nearby, but I have found no sign of the Trillium rugelii or Southern Nodding Trillium that Case mentions.

Here are a couple of shots of these strange but beautiful Trillium hybrid flowers:

Trillium hybrid Trillium hybrid

Trillium hybrid Trillium hybrid

Not to belabor the point, but I don’t think I’ve seen more variation in Trillium flowers than at this relatively small site. And, you know I can’t just stop with two images, so here are some more:

Trillium hybrid Trillium hybrid
Trillium hybrid Trillium hybrid
Trillium hybrid Trillium hybrid
Trillium hybrid Trillium hybrid
Trillium hybrid Trillium hybrid

Trillium hybrid

We spent a lot of time at this site. It seemed as if these flowers were just like snow flakes: no two of them are exactly alike! The weather was perfectly overcast and cool. But, we had a number of other sites to visit before we could call it a day. So we reluctantly packed our gear and headed north to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our first stop would be only a few miles from the intersection of Hwy. 276 and the Parkway.

A couple of years ago, the three of us visited this site and I managed to locate the unusual white form of Trillium undulatum or Painted Trillium. This form is called Trillium undulatum forma enotatum. But first, let me show you what the typical form of Painted Trillium looks like:

Trillium undulatum, typical form Trillium undulatum, typical form

The flower of this Trillium species is strikingly beautiful — perhaps the loveliest of our North American Trillium species. The dark red chevron markings on each petal tell you immediately that this is Trillium undulatum. However, in rare circumstances, these red chevron markings are absent. The site where we photographed these rare white forms contained about 8-10 of these plants:

Trillium undulatum forma enotatum Trillium undulatum forma enotatum
Trillium undulatum forma enotatum Trillium undulatum forma enotatum

Our next Trillium stop was an unplanned one. On our way north on the Parkway, I spotted a hillside of Trillium grandiflorum or Large-flowered Trillium. This beauty is perhaps our largest erect Trillium, showing beautifully large, white flowers that fade to pink as the flower ages. Here are a few of those that we saw on the hillside:

Trillium grandiflorum Trillium grandiflorum
Trillium grandiflorum Trillium grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum

And, yes, we did see some brief showers. We didn’t know it, but we would be seeing more of these beauties at our last stop.

The next Trillium stop would be one for a very strange form of our previous friend, Trillium undulatum or Painted Trillium. I found out about this site from a photographer whose wife found these plants and wondered if I would be interested in seeing them. Well, duh… YES!!! Many of the plants in this isolated site actually have flowers with 4 or even 5 petals and bracts (leaves)! In ordinary circumstances, this is quite the rare find, but at this site, it is not that uncommon. Here are shots of a few of the more than a dozen ones we found:

Trillium undulatum with 4 petals Trillium undulatum with 4 petals
Trillium undulatum with 4 flower petals Trillium undulatum with 4 flower petals

We even found one with 6 petals (I believe):

6-petaled Trillium undulatum

We finished up at this spot, packed our gear and headed further north on the Parkway. We were talking about what we had seen when I spotted a patch of white out of the corner of my eye. I slammed on brakes — fortunately no one was behind us. I backed up to where I could pull off the road, and we got our gear and headed over to the place where I had seen some white. It turned out to be a huge patch of Trillium grandiflorum. These beauties were huge! We began to set up out cameras, but the wind was unrelenting. These plants were on a hillside that was upslope from the valley below. The wind was unbelievable! We ended up spending much more time than necessary at this site because of the wind. Every time I pressed the shutter release, a howling gale would pass through us. But, the flowers were so nice… Here is what we finally ended up with. Remember that the petals turn pink as the flower ages:

Trillium grandiflorum Trillium grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum

We were finally wrapping up for the day. What a great day it had been! We packed up and headed toward our exit from the Parkway. On the way, we passed a site where we had photographed another Trillium species a few years ago. That species is Trillium erectum or Red Trillium. We decided that we would stop just to see what was cooking. What we saw was just awesome! I’ll bet we spent an hour at this roadside site and still didn’t photograph all of the color forms of this species. Here are some shots to give you an idea of the wide range of flowering species that were before us:

Trillium erectum Trillium erectum
Trillium erectum Trillium erectum
Trillium erectum Trillium erectum
Trillium erectum Trillium erectum
Trillium erectum Trillium erectum

Trillium erectum

So many wildflowers; so little time! What a day, indeed. It must seem to you that the Parkway is covered with wildflowers. Well, it is, but they are Spring ephemerals — they last just a very short time. Last year, I missed the Trillium undulatum by about 5 days, and they were well past peak bloom and not worth photographing. This year, we hit it perfectly. That’s not always the case, though. But I’m very pleased with our timing.

The next part of this trip report will include an orchid species as well as some very colorful lilies and Rhododendrons.

Stay tuned…

–Jim

9 comments


  • diane

    Wow! That will be blow people’s mind on the BRNN facebook page!! I hope you post there. Thanks for sharing.

    May 07, 2018
  • chuck ramsey

    Quadriums!

    May 07, 2018
  • ashley

    Absolutely stunning Jim. Thank you.

    May 07, 2018
  • Love the variations that you photographed!

    May 07, 2018
  • tom sampliner

    absolutely stunningly beautiful as always from You Jim. I am envious of all these various color and mutant forms of trilliums. If my health and other variables hold out I just may have to drive down next year and ask If I could join you on a field trip for a day or two in these special areas next year.

    May 07, 2018
  • Max Smith

    Wow! So many variations – and all beautiful.

    May 07, 2018
  • Ali V

    Wow, this is one of my favorite posts ever! I hope some ecologists know about those variation sites. Very interesting!
    Thanks for sharing

    May 07, 2018
  • Sylvain Beausejour

    Tu m’épates toujours Jim!
    You always dazzle me Jim
    Trillium are the first flowers that opened me to the world of botany. I was 12 years old.
    Sylvain

    May 07, 2018
  • Carmen

    Wonderful trillium photos. I saw some of those variations at Holmes Educ. Forest a couple of weeks ago, but your photos are much better! It was nice meeting you at DuPont on Saturday. Hope you found the yellow ladies slippers.

    May 13, 2018

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