Hickory Nut Gorge is home to six documented trillium species. Certainly the most common is Trillium cuneatum, also known as Little-sweet-betsy or toadshade. Little-sweet-betsy is a sessile trillium and is often the first wildflower to bloom in Hickory Nut Gorge, particularly on the warm south-facing slopes near the valley floor. It is easily recognized by its mottled bracts and maroon-colored petals, although there are some that are more of a reddish hue, greenish, or even greenish yellow. All have a wonderfully, pleasant smell that resembles the smell of sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) and it permeates through the forest when found in large numbers. Little-sweet-betsy is often confused with another trillium, Trillium sessile that also shares the common name toad trillium. Trillium sessile has an aroma as well, but it smells like rotting meat, as do many other trilliums such as wake-robin. I have never encountered Trillium sessile in Hickory Nut Gorge. This is why it is so important to know the Latin name to prevent confusion. Little-sweet-betsy is located throughout Hickory Nut Gorge.
|Trillium cuneatum is the first trillium to appear in Hickory Nut Gorge, sometimes blooming as early as late February until mid-April|
Another trillium of Hickory Nut Gorge is one that is mostly found in rich woods (most trilliums are) and around seeps and wet areas. It is called southern nodding trillium (Trillium rugelii). While little-sweet-betsy is short, typically less than a foot tall, southern nodding trillium is usually slightly over one foot tall. This trillium is pedicellate with the flower "nodding" beneath the large green bracts. The petals are white and recurve backwards. The pistil and stamens are maroon as is the throat of the flower before it reaches maturity. Southern nodding trillium typically blooms in April, into May. Best places to look for it are the Four Seasons Trail or the Park drive below the Ticket Office in the attraction part of Chimney Rock State Park and Bat Cave Preserve (take a guided hike to see).
|Trillium rugelii blooms from April to May.|
Great white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) is probably the most showy trillium species of Hickory Nut Gorge. Another pedicellate trillium, great white trillium has the largest flower of all the trilliums and easily stands out on the forest floor where it is found. The petals are most commonly white, but often turn pink as the flowers age. Great white trillium is found in rich woods, typically at the higher elevations of Hickory Nut Gorge. Best place to see it is in the woods in and around Gerton such as Hickory Nut Forest and at the very top of the Gorge at Hickory Nut Gap.
|Trillium grandiflorum blooms from April to May.|
Catesby’s trillium (Trillium catesbaei) is a delicate pedicellate trillium. This is our smallest trillium. Like the southern nodding trillium, the flower of Catesby’s trillium droops beneath the bracts. The petals are typically white, pink, or rose colored with bright yellow pistil and stamens. The bracts are small and often have wavy margins at the time of flowering. This trillium is typically found in acidic forests but can also be found in cove forests as well. Look for it in dry woods in Hickory Nut Gorge such as at Buffalo Creek Park (The Town of Lake Lure’s newest recreational area) or along the roadside of NC 9 North towards Black Mountain.
|Trillium catesbaei blooms from April to June.|
A few years ago, a friend of mine (and fellow biologist), James Padgett and I discovered a solitary Vasey’s trillium (Trillium vaseyi) on what is now State Park property on the north slope of Rumbling Bald. Vasey’s trillium is a large nodding trillium that at first glance looks very much like southern nodding trillium except for its deep maroon flowers. It can be found in similar habitat as southern nodding trillium and may actually hybridize when the two are in close proximity to each other. Unlike other maroon, pedicellate trilliums which often have unpleasant odors, Vasey’s trillium smells faintly sweet. The only place I have seen this trillium is the north side of Rumbling Bald so that is the only place I can tell you to look for it, but most everything there is private property so don’t trespass while looking for it.
|Trillium vaseyi blooms from April to June.|
If you would like to know more about trilliums, I would recommend picking up a copy of Trilliums, by Frederick W. Case, Jr. and Roberta Case. It is one of the most comprehensive books on trilliums I have ever seen, and it adequately describes the trillium species common to our area. Click on the link for additional pictures of the trilliums of Hickory Nut Gorge.