Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - May 16, 2010

From: Johannesburg, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: General Botany
Title: Trillium phototropism
Answered by: Damon Waitt

QUESTION:

I'm SURE you haven't had this question before. I live in northern Michigan in a wooded subdivision where we have clouds of wild grandiflorum trilliums growing in the woods on either side of the road. Today I noticed a four-petaled trillium, which got me searching the net. My question has to do with something else I've noticed. Every day, 90 percent of the trilliums on the RIGHT side of the road "face" the road. At the same time, 90 percent of the trilliums on the LEFT side of the road "face" the road. I've decided they must have some kind of sun-tracking mechanism like sunflowers. (Only, of course, the trilliums are not seeking the sun but the lighter area of the open road.) They do this in the early spring even when the trees are virtually leafless. The mechanism seems to "work" for trilliums far into the woods, not just those within ten feet of the road. Every year I marvel at this, but am stumped to explain it. Can you help?

ANSWER:

Regarding the four-petaled Trillium flower it is not unusual to find variation in the number of floral parts. This phenomenon results from developmental instabilibity and it casuses meristic variation (variation in the number of parts). Both environmental and genetic factors can cause a deviation from the normal number of floral parts and it occurs at a low level throughout the plant world.

Now for part two of your question. You are quite observant to notice the solar tracking behaviour of the Trillium flowers. This phenomenon is called phototropism (light seeking growth) and it is common in the genus Trillium.

 

From the Image Gallery


White wake-robin
Trillium grandiflorum

Red trillium
Trillium erectum

Painted trillium
Trillium undulatum

More General Botany Questions

Forestiera pubescens blooming in July
August 07, 2012 - I have a lot of what appears to be Forestiera pubescens. They are covered with the dark blue/black berries and flowers. Apparently they are blooming again in the middle of July. I live about 35 mile...
view the full question and answer

Difference between class notes and size notes on website
August 09, 2012 - I enjoy using the native plant database in planning my flower beds. However, I don't know the difference between Class notes and size notes. Can you help me out?
view the full question and answer

Native plant initiatives for universities in Southeast U.S.
April 26, 2005 - Hello, I am an undergraduate student majoring in botany at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, TN. I am a native plant enthusiast and would like to promote n.p.'s on campus. Do you kn...
view the full question and answer

Is Poison ivy always rooted in the ground?
November 11, 2015 - Does Poison ivy on a tree always start at the ground and climb up the tree or can it start producing its vine and leaves by itself at the top of the tree or middle?
view the full question and answer

Native North American bulbs
August 19, 2011 - I saw your list of 4 lilies native to the Northeastern United States, which was very helpful. What other bulbs are native to North America? Although I garden in Connecticut, I am interested in learn...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.