Joe O'Rourke

May 2005

Trillium grandiflorum (White trillium, Great white trillium, Large-flowered trillium)

Flowering: Late April to mid May

The genus Trillium includes approximately 35 species in eastern North America. One of the showiest and most easily recognizable of these is the large-flowered or white trillium. Trillium, so named for its floral parts in threes (from the Latin trilix, meaning triple), also occurs in western North America (seven species), and eastern Asia (six species). Considered by most botanists to be a member of the lily family (some assign it to its own family, the Trilliaceae), the genus Trillium is unusual among the monocots in that its leaves are net-, rather than parallel-veined. Two subgenera are recognized: subgenus Trillium, the pedicellate trilliums, and subgenus Phyllantherum, the sessile trilliums. Trillium grandiflorum is pedicellate, that is, flowers are borne on a pedicel, a stalk above the leaves.

Morphology: The solitary flower is 2-3" wide, with 3 large, white petals. Petal bases are erect, then flaring to produce a showy flower that becomes pinkish with age, the brilliant white color changing to dull pinkish-purple before fading. The flower is subtended by 3 green sepals; each flower has six stamens with yellow anthers.

The three leaves are each 2-6" long, broadly ovate and pointed at the tip. Leaves are green, occasionally with maroon overtones when first emerging, later turning to a rich green. They may turn purplish or maroon before senescing.

Trillium grandiflorum fruit is a pale green berry that falls from the plant when mature. Seeds are dispersed by ants, which are attracted to the lipid-containing elaisome.

Habitat: Trillium grandiflorum occurs in rich well-drained soils in deciduous or mixed woods, particularly those dominated by sugar maple, white ash and basswood. They do best on a base-rich site. Scores of individuals may cover a sweeping expanse of the forest floor. According to Trillium experts Frederick and Roberta Case, the most vigorous populations are found in "young to early maturity stages of second-growth forest, declining with shading in old-growth."

Life history: Trillium grandiflorum is a long-lived herbaceous perennial; an individual plant may live for more than 3 decades in the forest understory. Leafy and flowering shoots arise from the underground rhizome of mature plants and flower in the early spring before the tree canopy leafs out. Fruit forms within weeks of flowering; the leaves persist until mid- to late summer.

Seeds exhibit double-dormancy and the single lanceolate cotyledon usually appears above ground the second spring after dispersal. For the next few years, a single, heart-shaped leaf appears. The familiar, three-leaved form follows, and an additional three or four years may pass before flowering. When enough energy has been stored in the growing rhizome, the individual plant will produce a flower.

Distribution: Trillium grandiflorum is the provincial flower of Ontario, Canada and occurs in 28 of the lower 48 United States. The species is found in Maine, New Hampshire and southern Quebec, across southern Ontario to Michigan, Wisconsin, and northeastern Minnesota and south to Georgia.

Protected Species Status: In New York state Trillium grandiflorum is considered to be "exploitably vulnerable." If populations of the species continue to be reduced by factors such as habitat loss, animal browsing, or over-collecting, the species may become "threatened."

White-tailed deer browsing definitely negatively impacts populations of Trillium grandiflorum, but it has also been shown that deer are long distance dispersers of Trillium seeds.

Local sites: Six-Mile Creek Wildflower Preserve, Mundy Wildflower Garden, Lick Brook

About

By Anna Stalter

Photos by Joe O'Rourke

Plants Referenced

Common Name(s): 
White Trillium
Large-Flowered Trillium
Bloom Time: 
Mid Spring
Late Spring
Moisture: 
Moist
Light: 
Part Sun
Part Shade
Soil: 
Humus-rich Woodland
ph Preference: 
Neutral
Recommended for gardening
Used in traditional 19th century gardens
January 2008

Basswood (Tilia americana) is one of the largest trees in eastern north America. It can be found in cool, moist, deep soils from Southern Manitoba to New Brunswick and south to Missouri, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Delaware. It grows at elevations below 3200' in its northern range and between 3000 and 5000' elevations in the southern Appalachians. Tilia americana has a deep and extensive lateral root system, supporting trees that can grow 70 to 80' tall with a 2 to 3' diameter. The largest Tilia americana is growing in Montgomery County, PA and is 94' tall and has an 8' DBH. The trees have an oval to rounded crown, and mostly have one continuous, straight bole. The canopy is very dense, creating deep shade. The extensive root system is known to improve the soil it grows in by absorbing nutrients deep in the soil and then depositing those nutrients back into the topsoil as its leaves decompose. Basswoods are known to sprout vigorously which is why the trees are often found in close proximity. They are not fire-resistant, but a forest fire will not kill them, it will just force them to re-sprout.

The basswood's large leaves are alternate, to 5" diameter and 8" long, unevenly heart shaped, dark green and smooth above and paler with scattered hairs below. Basswoods are not notable for fall color, though some trees turn yellow. The cotyledons of basswoods look nothing like their adult foliage. The two cotyledons are deeply palmately divided, and carpet the forest floor in spring. Leaves have been historically used as food for humans and livestock.

One of the most important trees for honey production, basswood flowers when the leaves are mature, usually in June here in the Finger Lakes. In flower, basswood is often found by listening to the buzz of bees collecting nectar from its blossoms. The fragrant yellow to white flowers grow in clusters and are subtended by a narrow, green, leaf-like blade.

Basswood fruits are 1/3" in diameter, globose, nutlike and have a hard outer shell with a small seed. The fruits remain attached well into winter, and are one of the easier ways to identify this tree. I had been walking past a filled in kettle hole for years when one winter I noticed the fruits of Tilia on the snow about 100' away which led me to find one of many large basswoods close to my home. Trees produce seeds starting at about 15 years and have been known to continue fruiting yearly for up to 85 years.

Tila americana bark is a very dark brown with continuous, narrow ridges going up the tree. Young bark is smooth and grey, dark green or red (the ones I looked at this weekend were all red) with long lenticels. The twigs are zig-zagged and don't have a terminal bud. The lateral buds are .2 to .25" and have two visible red scales, which are lopsided and mucilaginous. Tilia bark (both the European and North American species) is the best woodland source for rope, string, thongs or strips for sewing birch bark. To get the fibers to make into rope, the bark is soaked in water for two to four weeks until the fibers separate.

Tilia wood is well known for its carving properties. It is also used in furniture making, though it is then covered with a veneer of other woods. Historically the wood was used for pulp in early paper production.

 

About

By Sarah McNaull

Photos by Kevin Nixon, Joe O'Rourke

Plants Referenced

Common Name(s): 
basswood
Bloom Time: 
Early Summer
Mid Summer
Moisture: 
Moist
Light: 
Sun
Part Sun
October 2008


Many people think of orchids as a southern species, reminiscent of large-flowered corsages from long-ago high-school proms. In fact, central New York has approximately 42 orchid species. Most of our orchids are small, but some New York state orchids rival our southern varieties in color and beauty (see Bob Wesley's article on the dragon's mouth orchid). This article profiles another genus of our lovely orchids, commonly called "ladies'-tresses".

The genus name Spiranthes comes from the way the flowers 'spiral' around the stem. These orchids are small, typically less than 12 inches tall, but the helix of whitish flowers makes them eye-catching and readily identifiable. Although immediately recognizable as one of the ladies'-tresses, the similar morphology and color has led to problems in differentiating them. Now accepted as encompassing just thirty species worldwide, the genus was once thought to include over 300 individual species. It is currently accepted that North America has about two dozen species, of which less than six species are in central New York.

Spiranthes lucida is the first ladies'-tresses you could be likely (and lucky enough) to see. It blossoms in our area by late June. I found it in Tully, NY, in an area with calcareous seeps, where subterranean limestone-enriched groundwater reaches the surface. This open, gravelly, limey-seep exposure is a favorite habitat for S. lucida. If you think you found it, look for the green nectar stripes on the tongue. None of our other Spiranthes have yellow centers or bloom this early.

Spiranthes casei is an uncommon species in central New York. When I first encountered it during an outing in Solon, NY, I did not know what it was but I was reasonably sure it was one I'd not seen before. Fortunately, friends more knowledgeable in orchids than I came to my rescue, and a return visit led us to identify it as S. casei. It was found at an abandoned ski resort and one of the highest elevations in our area. The soil was thin and dry.

Spiranthes cernua is the one most often encountered in our area. Commonly known as "nodding ladies'-tresses", it is an autumn species. I usually find it near the border of ponds but it is well known from other, drier, areas. Spiranthes cernua has flowers that are very white, not as creamy as are the other species in our area.

About

By Joe O'Rourke

Photos by Joe O'Rourke

Plants Referenced

Common Name(s): 
shining ladies' tresses
wide-leaved ladies' tresses
Bloom Time: 
Early Summer
Mid Summer
Moisture: 
Wet
Light: 
Sun
Part Sun
ph Preference: 
Lime Loving
Common Name(s): 
Cases' ladies' tresses
Bloom Time: 
Summer
Moisture: 
Moist
Wet
Light: 
Sun
Soil: 
Rocky/Stony
Well-drained
Common Name(s): 
nodding ladies' tresses
Bloom Time: 
Late Summer
Moisture: 
Moist
Wet
Light: 
Sun
Part Sun
April 2009

Early saxifrage is one of our earliest, showy, wildflowers. A native of the gorges around Ithaca, it loves rocky cliffs and dry ledges. Its name is from the Latin words saxum, meaning "rock" and frangere, "to break" and it was thought it helped disintegrate the rocks it grew upon. The common German name for early saxifrage is "Steinbrech" or "Stonebreak"(1). Some European species were reputedly thought capable of dissolving kidney stones.

Though listed as "common" in Weigand and Eames (4), and "frequent" by Wesley, et. al. (3), it may not be as plentiful as it once was. In her 1902 book "The Brook Book", Mary Rogers Miller observed "All up and down the rocky sides of the gorge, wherever a thin sheet of soil could be found to cling to, there was the saxifrage, by hundreds and almost by thousands. (2)"

Saxifraga virginiensis is in the Saxifrage (SAXIFRAGACEAE) family whose other locally common members include mitrewort and foamflower. Two others, no longer included in the same family but closely related, are grass of Parnassus and gooseberries in the PARNASSIACEAE and GROSSULARIACEAE families, respectively. Saxifraga virginiensis is four to ten inches tall with white flowers in clusters. Each star-like flower has five petals and ten yellow stamens. The single pistil has two styles. The flower stalk arises out of a rosette of somewhat fleshy leaves whose margins are coarsely toothed. The lower stem is very hairy and sticky. 

Two other Saxifraga species are listed for our area. Swamp saxifrage, S. pennsylvanica emerges a month or so later in our area and is commonly found in wet habitats (meadows, swamps, etc.). Yellow mountain saxifrage, S. aizoides, is very rare in this area. It emerges later still and prefers dripping wet, calcareous cliffs.

If you want to see early saxifrage in our area two good places are Upper Buttermilk Falls State Park and Lick Brook. It will be flowering by late April.

References:
Dana, Mrs. William Starr, How to Know the Wildflowers, p18-19. Dover Publications Inc, New York, 1963. First published in 1893, it has become a classic introductory wildflower book. She later published another classic How to Know the Ferns in 1907 under the name "Frances Theodora Parsons" after her first husband died and she remarried.
Miller, Mary Rogers, The Brook Book, p227. Doubleday, Page & Company, New York, 1902. The author was lecturer on Nature Study at Cornell University at the time of publication.
F. Robert Wesley, Sana Gardescu, and P. L. Marks, Vascular Plant Species of the Cayuga Region of New York State, 2008.
Weigand, Karl M. and Eames, Arthur J, The Flora of the Cayuga Lake Basin, New York; Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station Memoir 92, p238. Ithaca, New York, 1926.

About

By Joe O'Rourke

Photos by Joe O'Rourke

Plants Referenced

Common Name(s): 
early saxifrage
Bloom Time: 
Early Spring
Mid Spring
Moisture: 
Moist
Light: 
Sun
Part Sun
Soil: 
Rocky/Stony
March 2008

Porella platyphylla is a fairly common liverwort in our area and one of my favorites. It is also the only terrestrial member of the genus in central New York. Liverworts were once thought to be members of the division "Bryophyta", along with hornworts and mosses. Modern studies, however, place them in their own division "Marchantiophyta", with mosses ("Bryophyta"), hornworts ("Anthocerotophyta") and all vascular plants ("Polysporangiates") making up the other three. I found many references that consider P. platyphylloidea to be a separate species but Therien, et al.(4) concluded that the two species cannot reliably be distinguished so the older name takes precedence. Grout(3) assigned Porella to the family "Jungermanniaceae - The Scale Mosses" but today they belong to the family Porellaceae (in the order Jungermannieales), of which the genus Porella comprises by far the largest genera.

Liverworts are small, green plants that lack well-developed vascularization. They are green because, like most larger herbacious plants, they manufacture chlorophyll. They are small because they are gametophytes; that is, the sexual, dominant phase of a two-part lifestyle known as "Alternation of Generations". When a sperm from a liverwort male structure (antheridium) fuses with an egg cell located in a female structure (archegonium), the egg develops into a zygote. The zygote, in turn, develops into a structure that is different in form and function from the gametophyte. This new structure is called the sporophyte and it represents the other half of the lifestyle. In this phase spores are formed and each spore, under suitable conditions, can germinate and grow into a new gametophyte. Liverworts can also reproduce asexually, however, when pieces of the plant or specialized propagules break off and develop into new plants.

They, along with mosses and hornworts, are all found in our area although the hornworts are few in genera and more difficult to find. The taxonomic class name of liverworts is Hepaticae, a term derived from the liver-like (hepatic) shape of the leaf.

I often see Porella platyphylla in our forests and it always catches my attention. Although sometimes found on rocks, I usually see it growing on tree trunks. Radula spp. and Frulania spp., two of our other common liverworts, are associates(5), often found growing nearby. Porella platyphylla is a dull yellow-green color and its presence is welcome in winter where it stands out against a dark tree trunk and snowy forest floor. It literally does "stand out," for its pinnately branched stems form prostrate tiers that protrude away from the tree (see photo). Each individual stem consists of overlapping lobes and each leafy shoot is 2 to 4mm wide.

The next time you are "out'n'about" in your favorite woods, look for this interesting plant. Its distinct morphology makes it a good and easy find for learning about our liverworts.

References:

  1. Conrad, Henry S., and Redfern, P. L. Jr., How to Know the Mosses and Liverworts, McGraw-Hill, 1979.
  2. Hicks, Marie L., Guide to the Liverworts of North Carolina, Duke University Press, 1992.
  3. Grout, A. J., Mosses with a Hand-Lens, Published by the author, Third Ed. 1924.
  4. Therrien, James P. et al.,"Morphological and Genetic Variation in Porella platyphylla and P. platyphylloidea and Their Systematic Implications",The Bryologist, Vol. 101, No. 1 (Spring, 1998), pp. 1-19.
  5. Schuster, R. M., Boreal Hepaticae, a Manual of the Liverworts of Minnesota and Adjacent Regions, Lubrecht & Cramer Ltd (1977).

 

About

By Joe O'Rourke

Photos by Joe O'Rourke

Plants Referenced

Common Name(s): 
liverwort
May 2009

Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia) is one of our more curious-looking local wildflowers. It emerges from the forest floor in the month of May. This low growing plant of dry, rich woods, has unusual orchid-like flowers, and is known by several common names including flowering wintergreen and fringed polygala. The blossoms are pink to rose-purple in color, about 1-1.7 cm long, and usually found growing singly in the axils of the upper leaves. When in full bloom, two prominent petals flare out from the corolla, framing a whimsically fringed petal at the center.

Gaywings is not an orchid but is actually one of over 60 members of the genus Polygala that occur in the US. Polygalas make up a large part of the Milkwort family (Polygalaceae), the name stemming from the Greek for ‘much’ (poly) and ‘milk’ (gala). This is because eating milkworts was believed to increase lactation in mammals such as cows and even humans. Other Polygala species that occur in the northeast include the short-leaved and cross-leaved milkworts (P. brevifolia and P. cruciata) and one rare orange variety, P. lutea. Generally, these others are easily distinguishable from gaywings, having much smaller flowers that occur in spikes or racemes.

Like many spring wildflowers in the temperate zone, most Polygala species rely on ants to disperse their seeds, a strategy called myrmecochory. Polygala seeds have nutrient-rich attachments called elaiosomes that attract ants, which then drag the seeds into their nests. Ants feed the elaiosomes to their young, leaving the detached seed to germinate underground, far from the parent plant. Scientists have determined that the elaiosome evolved in this plant group about 55 million years ago and that this allowed the evolution of many new, specialized species of Polygala. This was well before the diversification of ants themselves, so it is most likely that the elaiosome originally had some other function before it was co-opted as a bribe for seed dispersal services!

Gaywings is an endangered species in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, but it is secure throughout the rest of its range from central and eastern Canada down the east coast to Georgia. Herbarium records from the Bailey Hortorium and New York Botanical Garden historically place this species in Tompkins County at locations such as Ellis Hollow Swamp, along Six-mile Creek, and in parts of Danby. In more recent years FLNPS members have spotted this charming wildflower at Buttermilk Falls and at Beaver Lake Nature Center, north of Syracuse where you might be able to catch a glimpse of it this year.

References:
Forest, et al. (2007) The role of biotic and abiotic factors in evolution of ant dispersal in the Milkwort family (Polygalaceae). Evolution, 61:7:1675-1694
USDA Plants Database  
The Polygalaceae Website (this site has links which do not seem to function well, but the information on the site itself is probably fine - Ed. 2012)
Lakehead University Faculty of Forestry and the Forest Environment
US Forest Service  (This has a good description of the flower, see paragraph 2. - Ed. 2012)

About

By Billie Gould

Photos by Joe O'Rourke, USDA Plants

Plants Referenced

Common Name(s): 
gaywings
Bloom Time: 
Late Spring
Early Summer
Moisture: 
Moist
Light: 
Part Shade
Shade
Soil: 
Humus-rich Woodland
ph Preference: 
Acidic
March 2010

Red pine, Pinus resinosa, is a fairly common tree in our area. It typically reaches sixty to seventy feet in height with a trunk diameter of a foot or more. The bark has a reddish cast and consists of thick, scaly plates. The cones are small and egg-shaped. The two dark-green needles in each fascicle (bundle) are three to six inches long and they form in clusters at the ends of branches.

Pinus resinosa prefers dry, sandy soils although it can do well in many soils provided there is adequate drainage. In North America it is found principally in the Great Lakes area and eastern Canada. In New York state, it grows wild in the higher elevations- typically the Adirondacks and Catskills. In our region it grows wild in the driest, steepest, most exposed south- and west-facing slopes. Northern Pennsylvania is the southern extent of its range. It germinates best on fire-cleared areas and its thick bark affords it a level of protection against fire.

Although less common, the imported Austrian pine (Pinus nigra) can often be found growing along with our own red pines. This European native resembles P. resinosa and was similarly planted in our area years ago for its timber value and fast growth. As the Latin name suggests, Austrian pine is also called "black pine". Red pine, on the other hand, is also known as "Norway pine". It is indigenous to North America, not Norway, but may have gotten this common name due to confusion with Norway spruce by our original English colonists. The way to tell them apart is to take a leaf (needle) and bend it in half. If it snaps in two it is a red pine; if it flexes without breaking it is the Austrian pine. For years I could never remember which was which so I came up with a mnemonic: "If you snap your fingers they will eventually turn red." Austrian pine leaves are usually a little longer than red pine, too.

I found it interesting that the Cornell Handbook of Nature Study (ref. 1) and Cornell Nature-Study Leaflets (ref. 2), published in 1920 and 1904, respectively, do not mention red pine at all, although they both discuss Austrian pines in our area. The majority of the red pines we encounter in our area are cultivated. Landowners often plant them due to their fast growth, aesthetic value and relative immunity from disease. Large numbers were planted in the 1920's and 1930's on abandoned farmland to control erosion and as a potential source of timber (ref 3). They often didn't do well and died where the soils were too wet. These straight rows of pines are ecologically poor. Such monocultural areas "are often biological deserts, which host little except pine diseases and pine insect foragers." (ref 4)

References cited:
1. Comstock, Anna Botsford, Cornell Handbook of Nature-Study, Comstock Publishing Company, Ithaca, NY, 1920
2. Cornell Nature-Study Leaflets, State of New York Department of Agriculture, Albany, NY, 1904, p338-339
3. Tobiessen, Peter and Werner, Mary B., "Hardwood seedling survival under plantations of Scotch Pine and Red Pine in central New York", Ecology, 61(1), 1980, pp25-29
4. Eastman, John, The Book of Forest and Thicket, Stackpole Books, 1992, p160-163.

Other references:
5. Cope, J.A. and Winch, Fred E. Jr., Know your Trees, Cornell Cooperative Extension Booklet, 1998
6. National Audubon Society, Field Guide to the Trees/Eastern Region, Alfred Knopf Inc., 1980

About

By Joe O'Rourke

Photos by Joe O'Rourke

Plants Referenced

Common Name(s): 
red pine
Moisture: 
Dry
Moist
Light: 
Sun
Well-drained
Showy fruit
Used in traditional 19th century gardens
Common Name(s): 
Austrian pine
Moisture: 
Dry
Moist
Light: 
Sun