On Monday, another MRI in San Francisco. On the way back to Marin we drove up (and up) Highway One to Diaz Ridge in GGNRA, hiked out the ridge to vast views of Tam and the Pacific, then down the Miwok Trail to Redwood Creek in Frank’s Valley, where it began to rain. We stuck out our thumb(s), and the first of not-so-very-many cars stopped and offered a ride all the way back to our vehicle. The driver was a beautiful German woman with her young son, here on a visit from Anchorage. They had just come from a hike with friends in Muir Woods and were, alas, on their way to SFO to return to the snow.
My son and I are preparing for a backcountry trip (no flowerblogging posts for about 8 days), so this will be a brief entry, except for talking about Trilliums.
Marin’s Giant Trillium, Trillium chloropetalum — Marin’s because it was first described scientifically on an early collecting expedition here in the county — is a botanical spectacular: huge, beautiful, and absolutely reeking of facinating biology.
If you chose anything in the Universe to represent “three,” it would probably be trilliums. Their broad platform of exactly three leaves is surmounted by a flower with three of every part.
Trilliums are prized garden plants, but are slow-growing and difficult to propagate, so the vast majority of them in commerce have been collected, legally or more often illegally, from the wild, wiping out or endangering whole populations.
Here in Marin, we have three trilliums: our Giant; the smaller, delicate Wake-Robin; and a third rarish form in the coast grasslands at Point Reyes that may or may not be distinct from the Giant Trillium.
Smell the Giant. Very few of the 40 or 50 trillium species have a scent, but this one will tickle your schnozz with a spicy old-rose fragrance.
Its flowers, even within one stand, can be the red of old blood, clear pink, parfait green, pale yellow or white. No one I’ve ever talked to seems to know why this variability exists.
We don’t know much about trillium pollination — bumblebees may carry a lot of the freight — but we know tons about seed dispersal. The trillium’s three-parted fruit decays in place. Ants shred them and dissect out the seeds. Attached to the seeds are fatty bodies called elaiosomes, created especially to induce ants to harvest. Dragged back to the ant colony, the elaiosomes are stripped off and eaten, and the seeds discarded in the ants’ garbage pile. Sneaky sleeping trillium babies, they benefit from (a) being safely buried; and (b) the rich nutrients of the garbage pile. They may take several leisurely years to break dormancy and germinate. Other seed dispersers we know about are deer (better than ants at moving the seed over distance) and yellow jackets.
More fat bodies! Another victim of the American obesity epidemic? A moist-forest plant like trillium, Wild Ginger uses elaiosomes to get ants to disperse its seed.
This flower belongs, like the pipevine we found two weeks ago, to the mostly tropical, mostly elaborate-flowered Birthwort family.
The leaves and roots of Wild Ginger have a distinct ginger taste, though of course authentic ginger is a tropical orchid. Wild Ginger contains a compound that is, at least for rodents, a potent carcinogen, so it’s probably not a good idea to eat.
Wild Ginger spreads vegetatively with its stem-like rhizomes. Its pollination is something of a puzzle; we think mostly it’s self-pollinated, but is occasionally aided by crawling forest-floor insects.