A Tale of Two Trillium

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Left: Texas Trillium (Trillium texanum).  Right: Bloody Butcher (Trillium recurvatum).

This post does not include any of my 2017 biodiversity targets, however I had such a good time on a recent outing looking for two species of trillium in East Texas that I couldn’t resist posting about it.  Both species are also very rare in Texas and are certainly worthy of their own treatment in my blog.

Last Thursday was Texas Independence Day.  Working for the state I get all kinds of obscure holidays off.  Even so, I decided to go into work in the morning to rack up a few hours of comp time and left a little before lunch.  I set out in pursuit of two members of one of my favorite genera.  Their populations are within a half an hour of one another, and I figured I could visit both in an afternoon, despite my tendency to lose track of time.

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Texas Trillium

Texas Trillium (Trillium texanum) is one of the pedicillate trilliums (subgenus Trillium).  Members of this group have uniformly green bracts and flowers separated from the leaf-like bract by pedicels.  It is the only member of this group in Texas.  It was formerly considered a variety of Trillium pusillum.

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County level distribution of Trillium texanum from http://www.bonap.org.  Yellow counties indicate that the species is present but rare.

Texas Trillium is extremely rare, occurring in only a few populations in East Texas and western Louisiana, though I recently heard from a botanist friend that it had been discovered in southwest Arkansas.  While other trillium species in Texas generally occur on rich, mesic slopes, Trillium texanum occurs in forested seeps, growing from permanently saturated ground amid sphagnum moss in the shade of Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) and other tree species typical of these communities.

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Texas Trillium

I found thousands of plants in my short visit, however only a small fraction of them were in bloom, with most plants only put up single bracts.  The flowers were all fresh.  As they age they will gradually turn a deep shade of pink before the petals weather away.

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Texas Trillium

Growing near the Texas Trillium were several groups of Primrose-leaved Violet (Viola primulifolia).  This tiny violet is similar to Viola lanceolata but can easily be differentiated by its leaves.  It grows in similar saturated environments.

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Primrose-leaved Violet

After spending an hour or so with the Texas Trillium I was ready to move on to the next Trillium species.  As I’m driving I frequently glance on the roadside in search of any interesting plant that might catch my eye.  While travelling between the two trillium sites I glimpsed a large patch of Carolina Vetch (Vicia caroliniana), an uncommon denizen of rich forests that barely enters Texas in the eastern part of the state.

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Carolina Vetch

Trillium recurvatum has a number of common names, including Prairie Trillium and Red Trillium.  My favorite, however, is Bloody Butcher – no doubt a reference to the deep red flowers.  Bloody Butcher is one of the sessile-flowered trilliums (subgenus Phyllantherum).  These differ from the subgenus Trillium by having variously mottled bracts and sessile flowers.  Trillium recurvatum can be easily differentiated from the other sessile-flowered trillium of Texas by its petiolate bracts.

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Bloody Butcher

Trillium recurvatum is a fairly widespread species.  It is common throughout much of its range, but rare on the periphery, which includes Texas.  In contrast to the mucky seep where I found Trillum texanum, I found Trillium recurvatum growing on a rich mesic calcareous slope with a variety of mesophytic hardwoods and calciphilic forbs.

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County level distribution for Trillium recurvatum from http://www.bonap.org.  Yellow counties indicate that the species is present but rare.

The majority of the plants I observed had deep maroon flowers, but a few were pale yellow.  In the past I have also observed individuals with lemon-yellow blooms at this site.  As is often the case with these East Texas rarities, at the few sites in the state that Trillium recurvatum does occur, it can be quite abundant.  I was fortunate enough to observe hundreds of blooms.

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Bloody Butcher with pale yellow flowers

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Bloody Butcher with pale yellow flower

Once again while driving I caught sight of an irregularity on the roadside.  This time it was not a plant, but one of our most spectacular insects: the Luna Moth (Actias luna).  Luna Moths may have as many as three generations per year in East Texas with the first emerging in early spring.  The individual pictured is a male, identifiable as such by its extremely feathery antennae.  These antennae are loaded with receptors that can detect the pheromones of a female from miles away.  They are members of the giant silk moth family (Saturnidae), and are among the largest moths in North America.

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Luna Moth

I ended the evening in the floodplain of the Attoyac River admiring a particularly expansive patch of Butterweed (Packera glabella).  The light was perfect, and I tried to capture a landscape image that showcased the beauty of these early spring wildflowers.  Growing among them were Springcress (Cardamine bulbosa) and hundreds of violets.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect afternoon.

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Butterweed in the Attoyac River floodplain

 

 

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