March 25, 2013

In search of snow trillium

Despite what the groundhog predicted back in early February, winter is hanging on with a vengeance here in central Ohio. So, with a winter storm warning in effect, what did we do? We went out looking for snow trillium! It wasn't supposed to start snowing till mid-afternoon, so we headed to Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve near Yellow Springs, where we first saw this very early wildflower many years ago.

Clifton Gorge has a very scenic trail system that links with paths at John Bryan State Park, offering great hiking opportunities. We parked at the SR343 lot and took the Gorge Trail down to the Little Miami River, passing dramatic limestone cliffs and a lovely waterfall.

Here is a view of the river:

Because of the cold weather, wildflowers are a week or two behind their average bloom dates this year. Only the very hardiest species have started to bloom. We saw a fair amount of harbinger-of-spring; in a previous post I wrote about how tiny the flowers are and this time I took a ruler to illustrate their size:

The hepatica was just starting to bloom, but even in bud it is lovely. This plant's flowers can be white, pink or tinged with blue. I loved these beautiful blue ones, even though they were nearly closed on this cold, overcast day:

I was surprised to see this insect on one of the hepatica blooms! Brave little guy to be out on a day like this!

Soon we spotted our goal: snow trillium! The "tri" in its name is quite descriptive, since these diminutive plants have 3 leaf-like bracts, three sepals and three petals. They are quite uncommon throughout their range, and mostly occur in limestone-derived soils along rivers and streams. These are very small plants, not more than about 2-4 inches high and the blooms are barely an inch and a half wide. This is quite a contrast to the much larger trilliums that will be so beautiful in the Ohio woodlands in a month or so. Most weren't open very wide, but here is one really nice specimen:

And here is a cluster which will be really stunning when the flowers are in full bloom:

Soon the snow began to fall, illustrating how the plant got its name. Very often it blooms before the last snowfall of the season, and if we had been an hour later we might not have been able to see them!

Our walk back to the car looked very different from our walk into the gorge:

All in all it was a very successful half-day adventure, combining the realization that the woods is starting to awaken with spring wildflowers with the knowledge that winter is not quite finished with us yet!


  1. I really enjoyed your flower photos. I appreciated your placement of a ruler near the harbinger-of-spring flowers. This really drove home how small they are.

    We've saw the falls in your photo last summer, but it was just a trickle then. It's nice to see it with this much water in it.

  2. Thanks for your note! That waterfall is definitely worth a spring visit!