Tuesday, April 9, 2013

to the power of three

A slow-growing perennial, lemon scented
yellow trillium (Trillium luteum)
create colonies that increase 
in size over the years and decades. 
This colony is growing along the Universal Trail at Ijams.

If you want to see a wildflower aficionado wax poetic and get all misty-eyed, all you have to say is one word: “trillium.” That will do it. It’s best if you whisper it low and rumbling with a sense of longing the way Orson Welles says “Roooooosebudddddd” in the closing scene of Citizen Kane.


The body plans of most multicellular organisms have parts organized in twos, often exhibiting bilateral symmetry: a left half reflected by a right. Go look at yourself in the mirror. We have two ears, two eyes, two arms, two hands, two legs and two feet, each a mirror reflection of its partner. (Luckily, we only have one mouth. Two would be too weird, but we could at least talk and eat at the same time.)

Trilliums dare to be different: their body plans are based on an odd number. The word trillium comes from the Latin "tres" meaning three. And even though we have around twelve different kinds of trillium growing in our Southern Mountains, they nearly always arrange their body parts in increments of that number: three leaves, three green sepals and three petals—
white, yellow, purplish or even maroon—on the flower itself.

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