Trillium Spring

Bainbridge Island, WA – Wonder Tracker has migrated north for the spring and summer seasons.  As we bid the Sonoran Desert farewell and started our journey northward, the landscape gradually morphed into rolling spring green hills, dotted with rushing streams, new tender leaves bringing bare branches back to life, and young lambs grazing in lush fields. Like the daily sunrise, spring always returns, but it never ceases to surprise us all over again with the refreshing taste of wonder.

On our first day back in Washington state, we couldn’t wait to get out on the wet trails of the Grand Forest on Bainbridge Island. One of the earliest signs of spring in the northwest woodlands is the blooming of the Western White Trillium and today they were out in full force, rising elegantly above the soppy forest floor debris. These showy wildflowers need the sunlight shining through leafless tree branches to bloom, so are among to the first to bloom before the trees sprout their spring leaves. 

As the Trillium flower ages, it turns various shades of pink

The intricate inner workings of the trillium is another cause for wonder. Trilliums are rhizomatous, meaning they flower from a root-like stem that grows horizontally underground and will gradually spread over a larger area in time.  Some rhizomatous plants are viewed as invasive because once their underground system of sturdy, fibrous rhizomes is present, it is very difficult to get rid of them. If one small piece of rhizome is left in the ground, it can start a new network. Ferns, stinging nettle and poison ivy spread like wildfire through an area, thanks to their hidden underground rhizome network. Edible ginger and turmeric are good examples of rhizome structures. Unlike many other rhizomes, the Trillium is slow to develop and spread, but once established can live for many years, even decades.

The leaves you see are technically not leaves, but rather extensions of the underground rhizome. Most people continue to call them leaves because they do carry out photosynthesis.  Picking the flower or “leaves” can damage the plant, causing it to not grow back until the following year, if at all. Seeds are spread by mice and ants, but again, they are very slow to grow and may not flower for many years while the rhizome develops from seed. 

Like most woodland flowers, Trilliums are best enjoyed in the ethereal mist of the springtime forest, and are even protected in some areas. Picking any part of the plant can prevent it from producing food for the plant or seeds to reproduce. Trillium change from white to pink, purple or even red as they age so return often to watch these lovely blossoms herald the wonder of spring.

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Wonder Triggers for Young Trackers

  • Can you find Trillium plants in the forest?  Are they alone or in groups?  Why do you think they tend to grow in groups?  Are they attached to each other?
  • What kind of root do you think they have?
  • Why do you think they bloom so early?  How will the forest change as summer comes? 
  • Trillium starts with the letters “tri.” What does “tri” mean? Can you think of other words that start with “tri?” Can you find a pattern of threes on the Trillium plant?
  • Trillium plants are very delicate and fragile.  Picking the flowers or leaves can damage the plant so that it may not survive. How might Trilliums become damaged in the forest? Who might eat them? Do you notice insects returning to the plant? Are the helpful or harmful?
  • Without hurting the plant, can you describe the details?  Does it have a scent? 
  • Can you find rhizomes at the grocery store in the produce department? What are they like? Will they sprout if you plant them?
  • Did you know that Trilliums are part of the lily family of plants? How are they the same or different from other lilies you have seen?

References and Resources
Native Plant Herald

The Reflector – Trillium is the Flower No One Should Pick

United States Forest Service

The Spruce – Rhizomes

Image: Sharon Pegany Copyright 2018

Cultivate Wonder… Discover Design

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