Earlier this month I was walking one of my favorite local trails when a little spot of green in the leaf litter caught my eye. I stopped to look and was so excited to see three speckled leaves. A trillium!
I love wildflowers, and even though I've known about trilliums for a while now, this was the first time I've ever seen one growing in the wild. I’m surprised that it took me so long to find one, because Georgia is home to 22 species of trillium—more than any other state in the US.
However, trilliums aren’t quite as widespread as other wildflowers. For one thing, they grow slowly. It takes 5-7 years for a trillium to develop from seed to flower, and some of them can live to be a hundred years old. And as spring ephemerals, they only appear above ground during the brief period of time before the forest canopy fills in for the summer.
After finding the first trillium, I realized there were many others in the same vicinity. Most of them had a spotted pattern on their leaves, but no flowers. Without a flower it can be difficult to distinguish between some of the more similar-looking species.
The spotted leaves narrowed it down to a few possibilities: yellow trillium, trailing trillium, spotted trillium, Underwood's trillium, or purple toadshade.
Seek identified the first few plants I saw as yellow trillium, so when I returned this weekend to check for flowers, I was expecting to see yellow. But what I found were a few plants with maroon flowers, which confirmed that they were Sweet Betsy, also known as purple toadshade. However, the maroon-flowered plants were a little farther away from the plants I saw originally, and they had darker spotting on their leaves. So now I'm thinking that there are likely multiple species growing in the same area.
Sweet Betsy has a spicy-sweet smell, unlike some other trilliums that are known for their foul odors. Considering that some species have scents that are compared to "wet dog," moldy cheese, and rotting flesh, I think I was pretty lucky to find a trillium I wasn't afraid to sniff!
It’s hard to tell if more of the plants will flower in the coming weeks, but I’m looking forward to going back soon to see if there’s been any other activity. I also noticed some bloodroot leaves poking up out of the ground in the same area. That's another spring ephemeral that has been on my list for some time.
And to think I found all of this excitement on a part of the trail where I used to pack away my camera because I thought it was so uneventful!