Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dwarf Trillium

Dwarf Trillium (Trillium pusillum) has begun to bloom at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest.  No flowers can be seen from the boardwalk, but plants have emerged from the leaf litter near the boardwalk and will be blooming soon.  Here are entries from years past.

Dwarf Trillium - Mark Musselman
Dr. Richard Porcher began studying the Dwarf Trillium after Hurricane Hugo opened the forest canopy above the plants, which precipitated a spike in the trillium population.  Currently, Dr. Danny Gustafson of The Citadel is studying the Dwarf Trillium and annually brings his ecology class to Beidler Forest to collect data.

Camouflaged Data Collectors - Mark Musselman
A downward trend in the species' population has been detected as the canopy has begun to fill.  In order to help this rare plant maintain or increase its population, we will be conducting some selective pruning in and around the study plots.  We will trod lightly as not to trample any plants or any ants that serve as seed dispersers.  The trillium seeds have nutrient rich appendages, called elaiosomes, which the ants eat once they have carried the seed back to their nest.  Housecleaning throws the unharmed seed out with the trash and new Dwarf Trillium colonies can begin some distance from their parent plants.

Mutualism, ask your kids or a friend's kids, is at work.  The ants benefit, the trillium benefits, and we benefit by being able to see a rare plant right in our figurative backyard.

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