Odd trilliums: An explanation

Loys Maingon provided the following explanation for the trilliums with double and triple flowers reported in the previous post Strange Trilliums!


The answer to the question about the trillium is one that I have often given to questions on my walks.  First, it is not “rare” (about 20% of the trilliums at my place are double – and I see it increasingly).  The phenomenon is quite common.  Here are three photos that can illustrate the point.

Some relevant facts:

  1. The thing to always remember is that flowers arise out of “meristematic” tissue (generally apical) and therefore their cells can become anything.
  2. Physiologically in their development, petals and sepals and stamens are modified leaves.
  3. The genes that control modification are controlled by proteins which are activated by environmental conditions.  That can be either the environment within  the cell, or within the environment at large.
  4. Protein conformation (shape) is temperature dependent. (It can also be affected by pollution, nutrients, or radiation.)  The simplest explanation is temperature.

So if you look at a common form of a trillium (photo 1) you will count 3 petals and 6 stamens.  Compare that to a double flower (photo 2)  and you will count 6 petals and 3 stamens. Interestingly enough, this development affected not only this flower, but both flowers on the same plant (photo 3).  So the protein signal was not just at the flower but throughout the plant’s programming.

An interesting aspect of this is that with climate change this is likely to become even more common.  There is an article in this week’s  Science [Loys wrote on May 2] about the decline of insects and the decline of protein production in plants.  

That is how the cookie crumbles.

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