Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Mysterious Trillium nivale

Even in Indiana, March isn't too early for some good botany. Last weekend, Lee Casebere and I headed to southeastern Indiana in search of the stunning and pre-spring blooming Trillium nivale. The specific epithet nivale means "of the snow," leading to the common name Snow Trillium for this species, which is sometimes seen blooming when snow is covering the ground. According to Wildflowers of South West Indiana, Trillium nivale was in bloom as early as March 3 this year!


There it is, right at home growing from a crevice in a moss-covered limestone outcropping. This is a tough plant, for sure, considering that it can withstand being frozen every night, and that it grows on nearly bare rock. These conditions are exactly what Trillium nivale needs, as it doesn't do well when in competition with other vegetation. Another habitat in which this little wonder is found is in gravelly-sandy alkaline floodplains, where the periodic disturbance of overbank flooding creates conditions where not many plants will grow and Trillium nivale can benefit from the lack of competition.


Trillium nivale has a somewhat spotty distribution throughout the Midwest, Great Lakes, and New England states. Its strongholds appear to be Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, where it is locally abundant. Even so, it is often difficult to predict exactly where you will find Trillium nivale; you can often find it growing abundantly in one spot, yet not find a single plant in the exact same habitat a few hundred feet away. I hope you are all lucky enough to find Snow Trillium in the short time that it blooms, from March to early April.

4 comments:

A.L. Gibson said...

It started blooming here in southern Ohio in early March as well this year! Visited a large population of it this afternoon after a Spring shower. Seeing them in person never gets old!

Scott Namestnik said...

I agree that seeing this trillium never gets old. I have another trip planned to see Trillium nivale next weekend. Hopefully they hang on long enough.

Brad said...

Scott, you can always jump up to Michigan to see some of our populations. I'm thinking the second week of April will be good, given the weather forecast.

Scott Namestnik said...

Wow, Brad... is that an invitation to botanize in Michigan? To what do I owe this honor? The last I knew, you were willing to engage in online arguments to keep me out of the state!

I may be able to come up for a bit on April 9, but I won't have much time. Let me know if you're available that day.