Monday, June 2, 2014

Trilliums - Trillium spp. - Trilles

Trillium erectum (red trillium, fr: trille rouge) and Trillium grandiflorum (white trillium, fr: trille blanc) are common sights in Quebec and Ontario in the early spring. The Trillium genus is in the Lilaceae family based on genetic evidence, though it used to be listed in a separate family and in spite of the fact that it displays a few characteristics which are slightly odd for the Lilaceae family (eg distinct sepals).

All Trillium spp. are myrmecochorous (see yesterday's post for discussion of myrmecochory), spring ephemeral, herbaceous perennials with thick rhizomes, and also display the distinctive sets of three in their morphology which make the trilliums so recognizable. There is a popular theory that Trillium spp. seeds have been dispersed wide distances (post-glacial expansion) by deer herbivory; I would comment only that deer herbivory and myrmecochory shouldn't generally go hand-in-hand as dispersal mechanisms, as myrmecochory is metabolically expensive and we would expect an advantage to the loss of this dispersal system if an alternative were available to the plant.

T. grandiflorum is the provincial flower of Ontario. It is primarily bee-pollinated and its seeds ant-dispersed.

T. grandiflorum in Gatineau Park
In Quebec at least, T. grandiflorum appears to form these vast colonies of thousands upon thousands of individuals. This photo shows a carpet of the flowers extending as far as one can see. In spite of a certain amount of concern over habitat losses and commercial collection for gardening, this species is listed as secure in Canada. Note, however, that it is listed as endangered or vulnerable in the US.

T. grandiflorum - with distinctive sets of 3 (leaves, sepals, petals)
T. grandiflorum flower
T. erectum, unlike T. grandiflorum, is not bee-pollinated. Instead, it is fly-pollinated. This is why it has a distinctly unpleasant odour (usually likened to wet dog); this odour attracts the flies which pollinate the species.

T. erectum flower with distinctive sets of 3
T. erectum is listed as secure in Canada, but, like T. grandiflorum, is listed as endangered, vulnerable, or threatened in the US.

T. erectum flower
I've always had a particular fondness for the red trillium, which is the only one of these two which grows at the lake (the property doesn't have any suitable places for T. grandiflorum)

T. erectum

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