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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BCWF “Map Our Marshes” workshop goes virtual

On March 19 we reported on the free Cumberland Map Our Marshes workshop to be held by the BC Wildlife Federation in June. Here is updated information received from BCWF.

BCWF’s Wetlands Education Program is going virtual! To do our part and practice social distancing measures, the BCWF will be hosting the Cumberland Map our Marshes online. Registration for this event is now open online, here.

Come join us to learn about the different types of wetlands around Cumberland and how to map and protect them using technology such as GPS, QGIS, Avenza, and more. No previous experience is necessary. Access to a computer and strong internet connection is required.

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Featured plant: Stinging nettle

This post is by Jocie Brooks, leader of the Botany Group, adapted from her email to members of the group on May 4.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis)

General notes

Many people first learn about stinging nettle the hard way. My first encounter, as a child, was a downhill wagon ride that ended in a roll through the nettle patch. A painful, bumpy red rash was the result.  

Despite its bad reputation, stinging nettle is a highly useful plant, and can be harvested as a spinach-like vegetable for use as steamed greens or in soups or pesto. It also makes an excellent medicinal tea. When the plant dies down in the late summer/fall, the tough fibres from the stem were traditionally harvested to make netting and cordage. 


Stinging nettle has a square stem, with leaves opposite each other. The bright green leaves are saw-toothed, tapering to a point. Drooping clusters of small greenish flowers at the axils are either male or female (on the same plant) with the female spikes usually above the males. Stinging nettle is a perennial and spreads from rhizomes, often forming extensive colonies.

The genus name Urtica means “to burn” and the species name dioica means dioecious, or males and females on separate plants, which is true of some stinging nettle subspecies (not ours, which is monoecious). The word nettle comes from the old German word “nezzila” which translates as “net.” 

What causes the sting?

Stinging nettle has hollow hairs called trichomes and at the base of each hair is a gland that contains formic acid. Touching the plant causes the tip of the hair to break, and the fluid is drawn through the capillary hair into one’s flesh. Brave people like to show off by grasping nettles firmly, proving that they do not sting if you break the delicate hairs. 

Where to find it

Stinging nettle likes nitrogen-rich soil and is often found on disturbed sites such as roadsides, clearings and middens. It can also be found in open forest, meadows and stream sides. 

Harvesting notes

The first leaves of nettle usually appear in March or early April, and it is best to harvest before flowering. Gloves must be worn for harvesting, but after cooking nettle loses its sting. Beware of harvesting nettle from contaminated areas. In our area, this includes old railway grades (that were heavily sprayed) and former coal mining sites (even though they may look natural). 

Note that stinging nettle is an important larval foodplant for butterflies in our area, most notably the Milbert’s tortoiseshell, Satyr angelwing and red admiral. When harvesting, take only what you need and leave the rest!

Fun facts

  • Samuel Pepys reported in his diary that he enjoyed a nettle porridge on February 25, 1661.
  • During WWII hundreds of tons of nettle were harvested in Great Britain for the extraction of chlorophyll and dyes for camouflage nets.
  • One of Aesop’s fables (by an ancient Greek storyteller) tells a story of a boy who was stung by nettles. He ran home and told his mother, saying, “Although it hurts me very much, I only touched it gently.” “That was just why it stung you,” said his Mother. “The next time you touch a nettle, grasp it boldly, and it will be soft as silk to your hand, and not in the least hurt you.” Moral: whatever you do, do it with all of your might!


Plants of Coastal BC (Pojar & MacKinnon), Food for Free: a guide to the wild edible plants of Britain (Richard Mabey), Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest (Lewis Clark), Illustrated Flora of British Columbia (Douglas, Meidinger, and Pojar), aesopsfables.comavogel.ca.

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Strange trilliums!

This post is by Jocie Brooks, leader of the Botany Group, from an email to members of the group on April 26.

Dawn Moore recently sent me some photos of unusual trilliums, some with double flowers and some even stranger “mutants” from the Snowden Demonstration Forest just north of Campbell River. I have no idea what is causing this…whether these are natural genetic mutations, or whether they could be the result of herbicide use? (which could be possible, with the Snowden forest’s history). If anyone can enlighten us with more information it would be appreciated!

Here’s a bit more of what Dawn had to say:

Here are a few photos taken of double trilliums a few days ago. One of our favourite spots for the “Big Search” for unusual trilliums is along the Lower Lost Frog Trail in Campbell River’s Snowden Demonstration Forest and we were once more successful this year.  One usually finds the extra petals of the double trillium to be incomplete or malformed, but photo 1 attached is of a rather perfect specimen.  And then…we found what was, for us, an even rarer mutant(?)- a trillium trying for 9 petals and which had at least 6 leaves, over 3 sepals and at least 2 pistils/stamens sets.

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