Wildflower walking

tiger swallowtail

The air was cool on Saturday morning, and this tiger swallowtail let us approach quite close as it basked in the strong sunlight. With the pale forest litter as a backdrop, it was difficult to spot, even from three feet away. Only with all intermediate shades between dark and light removed (with the “threshold” effect in Photoshop) does the pattern of its wings emerge clearly, just like the children’s game where someone says “hot” or “cold” to lead someone else to a hidden prize. Having only two options can really clarify.

trillium

The purple trillium comes in two colors, purple and light yellow. The latter seems to be controlled by a recessive gene, like blue versus brown eyes in humans. Given the trillium’s three leaves, three sepals, three petals, and three stigmas, though, it seems a little surprising that there isn’t a third color option. Then again, most trillium species only have one.

Cut down a trillium for any reason — even if only for the cut flower — and it can take years to recover, if ever. Like many perennial native wildflowers of the Appalachians, trilliums spread with glacial speed, depending almost exclusively on ants to carry their seeds back to their colonies and toss them out in their middens after eating the protein-rich bribe (the eliasome). And ants don’t tend to walk great distances, at least not in human terms. “This type of seed dispersal is termed myrmecochory from the Greek ‘ant’ (myrmex) and ‘dispersal’ (kore),” says the Wikipedia.

yellow mandarin

A freshly opened flower of yellow mandarin is the same monochome green as its leaves. Young as it is, though, it’s already bound by a few strands of spider web. The flowers must move quickly before the forest canopy fills out and robs them of sunlight; those whose lives are linked to theirs, like the ants and the spiders, must move even more quickly. But I suppose it is because they have so little time each year in which to flourish that these wildflowers’ long-term progress is so slow.

So musing, we sauntered slowly up the hollow.
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UPDATE: Gina Marie posted about the walk here.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

10 Comments


  1. I enjoyed this very much. You have a unique way of looking at things, or describing them. Well, both.

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  2. I like what you did with the swallowtail picture, Dave. Glad you got some up. I’ve been away all weekend, but I’m hoping to post tomorrow morning. I’ve been playing around with photoshop with the trillium pictures.

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  3. leslee – Glad you liked!

    Gina – I’ll be interested to see what you come up with.

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  4. Fascinating, as ever, and lovely photos. I knew nothing about the connection between trillium and ants. How cool. Thanks.

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  5. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to returning the favor as soon as I catch up on my online reading.

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  6. Great trillium and swallowtail shots. I’m inspired to try my hand at some B&W photo versions using the Gimp.

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  7. So you have trilliums in your woods! I’ve been looking for them, but haven’t found any.

    One thing I would like to figure out better is what flowers to expect where; in other words, if I find bloodroot and trout lilies, I should also expect such and such other flowers blooming nearby or later in the season. Lots to learn, but I guess it’s best accomplished by careful attention to one place over a number of visits.

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  8. Yeah, it would be helpful if there were guides that told you that. The Peterson Field Guide to the Eastern Deciduous Forest is a start, though not much of one. I’ll give it some thought.

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  9. I kept seeing trilliums when I was out walking today. Thanks to my blogger friends – you and Lorianne in particular – for blogging about them or I’d not have noticed them particularly and known what they were.

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  10. I saw a bunch of painted trilliums today. Those are the white ones with the pink centers – very delicate.

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