Great White Trillums

2021 May 30

I was on an expedition to find the remains of two former manganese mines[1] on May 20, 2021. And while driving down a dirt road near Alberta, I passed several patches of these very attractive and distinctive white flowers.


These are most definitely Great White Trilliums, Trillium grandiflorum


The trilateral symmetry of the blossoms is reflected in the plant proper, as the plant itself has leaves in groups of three.


These are really beautiful flowers. There are eight (formerly nine) trillium species that grow in Michigan, and this is by far the most common.. While three trillium species in the state are considered “threatened” (Snow trillium (Trillium nivale), red prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum), and toadshade (Trillium sessile)) and one is classed as “endangered” (Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum)), this species is not one of them. At one time, many wildflowers in Michigan were protected by state law to prevent them from being overharvested from the wild. These laws appear to have been relaxed over the years, and as far as I can tell it is now legal to transplant Great White Trilliums as long as you are either the owner of the land they are on, or have the permission of the landowner. It is still a bad idea, though, because they are fussy plants and don’t take to transplanting well. You can get trillums from plant nurseries, although you want to check that they are actually rearing them from nursery stock and not collecting them from the wild themselves.

White-tailed deer apparently like to eat trillums, and so if (like us) you have problems with deer wandering into your yard to eat your flowers, you probably don’t want to try growing these in your flower garden in any case.

[1] As part of a research project I am working on, I located two former manganese mines within a 100 mile drive of our house. One of them is just outside of Negaunee, and is the remains of the old Etna mine. The actual mine site is a treacherous flooded pit and is fenced off, but there are a number of piles of black rocks scattered about that I am pretty sure are manganese-rich.


The other mine is south of L’Anse, near Alberta. Part of it is also fenced off, although I could see what looks like a former mine entrance through the links in the fence (the camera was able to poke through the openings in the fence so it didn’t show in the picture).


There were also a couple of small test pits outside the fenced area, where I could collect water samples that hopefully contain the bacteria that I need for my project.

There were several outcroppings of a black, dense, greasy-feeling, electrically-conductive rock in one of the test pit that broke up into thin flakes. I thought that they were manganese ore at the time, but I just finished running an X-ray fluorescence analysis on one of them. And, they are completely free of manganese. They appear to actually be mostly silicates and iron. I think it is black because it contains graphite, which is also black, greasy-feeling, and electrically conductive, and carbon doesn’t show up on the X-ray fluorescence scan. When I burned a specimen in the lab, it did lose a lot of mass due to combustion, which is consistent with being a high-graphite shale.


2 Responses
  1. Tim permalink
    June 2, 2021

    Whenever I see those layered shale formations, my mind shifts to fossils. Do you come across them much, in your geological surveys?

  2. June 2, 2021

    Tim: unfortunately, I don’t think there are associated fossils. The local rock is mostly Precambrian, and primarily formed about 1.1 billion years ago during the formation of the Mid-Continent Rift System, before there was significant multicellular life. I think this graphitic shale is at least that old, and I didn’t see anything that looked particularly fossil-like in the part that I dug up.

    It’s a real shame, because I used to love hunting for fossils when I was a kid. But as far as I know, the nearest fossil-bearing sites are at least 100 miles away from here.

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