Hidden under the buckthorn

Prairie trillium at the Ladd Arboretum

As dense buckthorn is cleared from the banks of the North Shore Channel, other plants have a better chance. These prairie trilliums showed up recently in one of the recently cleared areas in the Ladd Arboretum. Virginia waterleaf, another common Illinois wildflower, is growing nearby.

Because the habitat here was so disrupted by construction of the channel a hundred years ago, it’s hard to know how these flowers arrived. Possibly they spread from wildflower plantings in other areas of the arboretum. John Hilty, who maintains the Illinois Wildflowers website, notes that ants help to spread trillium seeds.

White-tailed deer also may play a role—and we know that there are deer in the arboretum. Deer, he says “are especially known to eat the flowers and foliage of trilliums. There is also some evidence that the seeds of trilliums can pass through their digestive tracts and remain viable.” When there are too many deer, they can put too much pressure on these flowers. It’s possible, Hilty says, that “the mottled pattern of the foliage of the Prairie Trillium is an adaptation to deer predation as this type of pattern may help to camouflage the plant with the surrounding forest floor.”

You can find out more about trilliums on the Illinois Wildflowers website.

— Wendy Pollock