Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lost & Found: Bent Trillium

After a recent speaking engagement for the Saluda Community Land Trust (SCLT) I was invited to visit a privately owned property. Having driven through the local area, I was dismayed by the extent and domination of invasive plants and didn't set my sights too high.

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)
eating up the woods in Polk County, NC

However, it was soon apparent this site was a wildflower paradise. A host of spring flowers and native plants clothed the ground including a number of Trilliums. It didn't take long to recognize that I didn't recognize them all! After some research, I began to suspect an unusual species for North Carolina was present. Rumour had it that the NC Native Plant Society had previously been to the site. I checked with Tom Harville and Mark Rose and, sure enough, they indicated seeing at least two Trilliums of special conservation interest in North Carolina. Based on these reports and my own observations, I was able to convene a "Trillium Dream Team" of sorts to revisit the site and attempt to officially document the various species present.

3 members of Trillium Dream Team
Tom Patrick, David Campbell,
 Jim Matthews

Tom Patrick (GA DNR), Jim Matthews (UNCC retired), David Campbell (UNCC Herbarium), James Padgett (NC Natural Heritage Program), Kathy Schlosseer (PCP Board Chair), Mimi Westervelt (FOPC member extraordinaire) met on-site in early May.

It wasn't long before Jim, David, and James were building a plant list for the property, adding a host of species to the list the landowner had previously assembled. Just a short walk down the trail we found the main target of our efforts.

Bent Trillium (Trillium flexipes) rediscovered in NC near Pacolet Falls

Bent Trillium (Trillium flexipes) has a wide geographic range in eastern North America, centered in the Midwestern states (see below). This Trillium is considered "globally secure" by NatureServe and the network of Natural Heritage Programs.  However, the species trails off in the south, just barely reaching north Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Here in North Carolina the species has been reported from 3 western counties all of which are considered to be "extirpated or possibly extirpated".

With this confirmation and "re-discovery", Bent Trillium is once again considered an extant member of our native flora. We hope to continue working with the private landowner to protect this important site for posterity.  The NC Plant Conservation Program has set a goal to permanently protect each native plant species in its natural habitat; this site is a "no-brainer"!

Sweet White Trillium (Trillium simile) near Pacolet Falls

Another significant species documented during our visit is Sweet White Trillium a.k.a Jeweled Wakerobin. In contrast to the wide distribution of Bent Trillium, Trillium simile is a narrow Southern Appalachian endemic found only in TN, GA, SC, and NC. NatureServe ranks it as globally vulnerable and the NC Plant Conservation Program considers it to be threatened and thereby worthy of protection efforts.

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