Wildflower of the Week: Western Wakerobin

As anyone who read our previous post could easily have predicted, Western Wakerobin (Trillium ovatum) is our Wildflower of the Week. T. ovatum flourishes, as indicated by the photo, in damp forests – which, around here, means redwood forests. They reach the southern end of their range, along with the redwoods, on Big Sur’s South Coast.

T. ovatum works to colonize its immediate surroundings by spreading its rhizomes out beneath the duff of the forest floor. It also seeks to reach new habitats by producing seeds attached to a delicious – to ants and slugs, anyway – structure called an elaiosome. The plant counts on the ants hauling the elaiosomes, seeds and all, to distant nests and discarding the seeds there. Recent research, however, suggests that this isn’t going so well. Seed carrying ants are now rare in the wet forests where T. ovatum thrives, and the elaiosomes are being eaten by banana slugs who simply knock the seeds off on the spot.

While it’s easy to see that this plant, with its three big leaves and conspicuous three-petaled flower belongs in the genus Trillium, assigning it, and the other Trilliums, to a family has been a good deal more problematic. Traditionally, the Trilliums were considered members of the Lily family (the Liliaceae), but since at least the 1840s dissident botanists have been trying to split them off into a family of their own – the Trilliaceae. That movement has never quite succeeded, but a more recent effort to place the Trilliums, along with other nonconformist lilies, in a family called the Melanthiaceae appears to be meeting with more success.

Another local Trillium, Giant Trillium (Trillium chloropetalum) growing near Garzas Creek in Garland Regional Park.

Star Lily (Zigadenus Toxicoscordion fremontii), or Star Zigadene, is another local plant ejected from the Lily family and reassigned to the Melanthiaceae. To add insult to injury it’s even been kicked out of the genus Zigadenus – surely one of the more melodious genus names around – and added to the far less appealing Toxicoscordion. As anyone who follows this blog regularly already knows, this is not a change we’ve yet reconciled ourselves to.

In any event, Star Lilies are currently blooming in abundance along the Cypress Grove Trail at Pt. Lobos and Western Wakerobins are blooming in the redwood forests along the coast. The recently cleared trail along the South Fork Little Sur is a great place to see them.

4 Responses to Wildflower of the Week: Western Wakerobin

  1. Lovely photos and descriptions. Keep it up. (And if you’re ever in Berkeley, stop by our community garden for the wildflowers and a small sampling of native trees.)

  2. joshuacanyon says:

    For the record: I completely refuse to accept re-classifications of plants I took the trouble to learn in the first place. That is just WRONG! (;>))

  3. gayle says:

    Nice photos, and I love the background you give on all your stories. Excellent work. I, too, like the original plant names…

  4. Simon Eagar says:

    Star lillies all over OCRd too! Now that the Weekly has outed you as the XS blogger (we knew!) it’s good to find you posting more. I’d also heard that Xasauan was an old word for Esalen? It’d be fun to take a hike with you some time.

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