2 min read

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Ontario's three-petaled floral emblem carpets the floor of our sugarbush.
Ontario's floral emblem, the White Trillium
A carpet of blooming White Trilliums draws local photographers and gardeners from miles around.

Once a year, for a few weeks, our front yard looks like this.  Over an acre of it.

It's a spectacle that many appreciate, but no one more than my wife, Louisette.  These flowers - these specific individual plants - are family to her.  She awaits their visit with excitement every year.  This past weekend, as we prepare for a necessary drainage installation, Louisette spent hours on her knees, collecting - no, rescuing - white trillium bulbs, newly sprouting, from the forest floor, and relocating them out of harm's way.

It's not a foolish pursuit.  The flowers in the pictures above spent up to ten years working up to the point they could bloom.  They start life as a seed with something called elaiosome attached, which is food if you're an ant.  But as you know, ants don't eat food where they find it; they gather it (unlike those lazy grasshoppers).  So, off the seed goes, to some underground lair where the ant will eventually chow down on the nutrient-rich elaiosome, and discard the seed... underground somewhere (I am not familiar with the waste management practices of your typical ant colony).  Ants do this for many wildflowers.  It even has a name - myrmecochory.  It's not the fastest way to spread yourself around, so the flowers grow in dense groups in suitable habitat.

From here, it can take this seed a couple of years to germinate.  Once it does, it spends seven or eight years gathering up the courage to bloom.  When it gets there, it shoots a single stem skyward and explodes onto the scene in a bloom that captivates.

After a few short weeks, like the sparks of fireworks, it fades.  For the rest of the summer, its broad leaves will gather energy from beneath the majestic sugar maples and ironwood trees (in our case), to be ready for next year's moment.  Our persistent little friend will be back next year, the year after that, and the next, for up to thirteen years.  Any one of these fragile flowers on the forest floor could have been serving dinner to an ant as a seed in an ant hill over twenty years ago.

Many hear that it is illegal to pick a trillium grandiflorum.  While not illegal, picking a trillium has a lasting impact.  If the plant does recover, it could take years.  Take a picture, instead, like the young lady I asked to move her car so I could get into my driveway.  "So sorry, I thought you were here to take pictures too!"

Maybe I will, today.  And no need to apologize.

Thanks for reading.  Send me an email anytime. You can peruse other musings of this wannabe farmer from the homepage, or click on my picture, below.