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Trilliums

Trilliums
By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

One of the “Rights of Spring” is the flushing of the forest with wildflowers. Do not allow it to pass without spending time exploring the natural world. As children, many of us collected dandelion flowers to give our mothers. It is not too late to do that unless our mother preceded us in death. Even if she has, go out and pick some to put on the table in her remembrance. This is not a restricted activity for children only.

In this image from Michigan, the very uncommon Trillium grandiflorum forma roseum is present with a pair of the white-flowered Trillium grandiflorum. From US Forest Service. Image by Charles Peirce.

Trilliums are a wonderful large spring flower that comes and goes in May. The leaves are on the stem beneath the flower. When picked, we may have learned it kills the plant and next year there will no trillium there. It is best not to pick them. If the plant is robust and healthy, it might not cause its death. The plant might survive but the following year it might not have adequate energy to produce a flower. It will take time to recover from picking. In general, I discourage picking of wildflowers and encourage people to enjoy them growing in their nature niche. There they can reproduce and aid survival of native insects, birds, and mammals. 

In general, it takes about seven years for a trillium to first bloom. If it remains healthy, we can expect it to flower annually. Many circumstances determine if wildflowers will thrive. 

Hepaticas are an early blooming species that was very abundant until forests were harvested. That species did not survive habitat change well. When I began work at the Howard Christensen Nature Center in 1986, We knew of one robust plant flowering near Spring Creek. I lined the trail to protect it from trampling so it would hopefully reproduce and populate the forest. At Ody Brook the first hepaticas began blooming March 30.

After 20 years at HCNC, several plants were growing near the original progenitor and providing a glimmer of springs to come. It will likely take centuries for that species to recolonize the second growth forest that has developed following forest harvest. Many wildflowers escaped heavy human manipulation and thrive in remnant populations. I implemented a use policy at HCNC that included “high, limited, passive and restricted” activity areas. Passive and restricted activity areas were those where trampling would likely reduce plant and animal survival. We kept use to a minimum to balance use with wild community survival. 

Trailing arbutus is another species that has experienced massive decline. It does not survive transplanting. It thrived in large areas in past centuries but is less common now. Near the HCNC Welcome Center parking area, trailing arbutus continues survival by the path to the Red Pine Interpretive Center. Annually, I lined the trail with a border to provide the plants with an expansion opportunity. It was colonizing additional ground and expanding but people move the protective border annually and in recent years the plant is losing living space. 

At Hoffmaster State Park, a spring trillium festival was held annually but overpopulation of deer caused great decline in trillium survival by over browsing. Now a wildflower festival is hosted with fewer flowering spring ephemerals. 

At Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary we retain massive populations of both large-flowered trilliums and nodding trilliums. The large-flowered trilliums are obvious in large patches in the “Big Woods” during early May. Nodding trilliums are even more abundant but their flowers are smaller and concealed under the plant’s leaves in floodplain habitat. One needs to look for them carefully. Edith Jarvey said she never saw so many of these plants anywhere else. 

In your living space, you can encourage native wildflowers. It can be challenging. Many plant nurseries do not sell native wild stock. Digging plants on state and federal lands is not permitted because populations are already stressed. Look for native plant nurseries on-line. Google “Wild Ones – River City chapter and consider joining. They offer support and provide plants to grow. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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