Anyone whose known me for more than approximately 8.32 seconds knows how much I love trilliums, and not just because they’re gorgeous (although they are). They’re a fragile, finicky plant in a marginal and difficult habitat, and they manage to turn that into something beautiful: blooming after the ground thaws but before the deciduous leaves come in (which shuts off their sunlight), in some forests in southern Ontario trilliums turn the ground white for a few weeks each spring. Two places I’ve regularly seen a good show are Ratray Marsh on Lake Ontario in Mississauga and Tottenham Park in Richmond Hill; they aren’t as prevalent on the Don. This might be because deer live in the Don watershed and deer love trilliums, eating them before almost any other plant.
Trilliums can reproduce through their roots (clonally) or by producing seeds (sexually), and there is some evidence that in more disturbed areas clonal reproduction is more common. Ants are an important link in trillium sexual reproduction: the seeds are covered with a lovely ant food, so the ants take the fruits and bury them and eat them, and the seeds that remain germinate (if they can) the following spring. Much like trout lilies, it takes a couple of years for that germinating seed to sprout aboveground; and what looks like a leaf is actually a bract, or part of the flower. Seven to ten years after the seed is in the ground, the plant will produce a white flower; trilliums are perennials, so they’ll just keep going until you kill them. When you next see a small child walking home with a fistful of trilliums, consider that they are holding many times their own age in plant life.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not actually illegal to pick trilliums in Ontario (if you don’t believe me, search the statutes site), but it is a horribly bad idea considering how long it takes them to grow, so please don’t. If you absolutely must, at the very least, don’t pick the leaves (bracts) so that the plant can grow again the next year. If you pick the leaves (bracts), you kill the plant.
One review of commercial trillium operations in North America found that almost none of them were actually growing trilliums from seed, instead transplanting them from wild habitats. Trilliums do not transplant well, and usually die; in some areas of the United States, such removals are endangering local populations of this beautiful flower to the point of extirpation. If you desperately want trilliums in your garden, try waiting for the wild flowers to fruit typically in late May or June and then gather some seeds, take them home and grow them yourself.
A bit of art. First, a poem by A. M. Klein:
Who knows it only by the famous cross which bleeds
into the fifty miles of night its light
knows a night-scene;
and who upon a postcard knows its shape –
the buffalo straggled of the laurentian herd, –
holds in his hand a postcard.
In layers of mountains the history of mankind,
and in Mount Royal
which daily in a streetcar I surround
my youth, my childhood –
the pissabed dandelion, the coolie acorn,
green prickly husk of chestnut beneath mat of grass-
O all the amber afternoons
are still to be found.
There is a meadow, near the pebbly brook,
where buttercups, like once on the under of my chin
upon my heart still throw their rounds of yellow.
And Cartier’s monument, based with nude figures
still stands where playing bookey
Lefty and I tested our gravel aim
(with occupation flinging away our guilt)
against the bronze tits of Justice.
And all my Aprils there are marked and spotted
upon the adder’s tongue, darting in light,
upon the easy threes of trilliums, dark green, green, and white,
threaded with earth, and rooted
beside the bloodroots near the leaning fence-
corms and corollas of childhood,
a teacher’s presents.
And chokecherry summer clowning black on my teeth!
The birchtree stripped by the golden zigzag still
stands at the mouth of the dry cave where I
one suppertime in August watched the sky
grow dark, the wood quiet, and then suddenly spill
from barrels of thunder and broken staves of lightning –
terror and holiday!
One of these days I shall go up to the second terrace
to see if it still is there-
the uncomfortable sentimental bench
where, – as we listened to the brass of the band concerts
made soft and to our mood by dark and distance-
I told the girl I loved
I loved her.
And another by Mary Oliver, which I might have to repeat in a couple of days because it is so good:
What Was Once the Largest Shopping Center in Northern Ohio Was Built Where There Had Been a Pond I Used to Visit Every Summer Afternoon
Loving the earth, seeing what has been done to it,
I grow sharp, I grow cold.
Where will the trilliums go, and the coltsfoot?
Where will the pond lilies go to continue living
their simple, penniless lives, lifting
their faces of gold?
Impossible to believe we need so much
as the world wants us to buy.
I have more clothes, lamps, dishes, paper clips
than I could possibly use before I die.
Oh, I would like to live in an empty house,
with vines for walls, and a carpet of grass.
No planks, no plastic, no fiberglass.
And I suppose sometime I will.
Old and cold I will lie apart
from all this buying and selling, with only
the beautiful earth in my heart.