Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Some may already know that the only place in South Carolina to find a significant population of Dwarf or Carolina Least Trillium (Trillium pusillum) is at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. Along with migratory songbirds, the flowers of the Dwarf Trillium (T. pusillum)will return between March and May. The small flowers will bloom white and change to pink or purple. Don't blink or you may miss them!

Today's phone call from New Jersey was not about Dwarf Trillium (T. pusillum), but about Mottled Trillium (T. maculatum). A gentleman studying the trillium genus was calling to locate sites in the Charleston area that contained Mottled Trillium (T. maculatum). We did not know of specific sites, but we did know a source that would. Richard Porcher, along with Douglas Rayner, authored the book A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina. Before calling Richard Porcher, we checked the trillium references in his book and discovered that we have Mottled Trillium (T. maculatum) within the sanctuary atop the limestone-bedrock bluffs. The book notes: "In Wildflowers of the Carolina Lowcountry and Lower Pee Dee, this species was erroneously identified as Trillium cuneatum, which is actually a piedmont and mountain species. The difference between the two is slight...(omitted reference to image and appendix). Separation is necessary because their ranges overlap in the piedmont, although the two are never found together."

Based on the references available at the time, we had identified our plants as Little Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) when in fact they are Mottled Trillium (T. maculatum). However, due to the phone call soliciting information, we experienced a reversal of roles being the learner instead of the teacher. Actually, in the complex natural world, that occurs more often than we like to advertise!

Next month, the trillium that we will see blooming on the limestone-bedrock bluffs above the swamp will be Mottled Trillium (T. maculatum). We stand corrected!

Images by Mark Musselman

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