Two weeks ago, on a cool and misty evening, I found myself tromping through Jasper Woods in search of the painted trillium.Mike Connell is a columnist for the Times Herald. He can be reached at (810) 989-6259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
you’ve never been to Jasper Woods, and I hadn’t, it is a 40-acre
sanctuary owned by the Michigan Nature Association. Another 40-acre
sanctuary, this one belonging to the Detroit Audubon Society, adjoins
it on Dunlap Road just north of the Pine River in Kimball Township.
guides were Bill and Cheryl Collins, owners of Huron Ecologic, a
consulting firm in Rochester Hills. Months earlier, I had mentioned to
the Collinses that I’d never come across a painted trillium. They
promised to show me a stand and were kind enough to keep that promise.
Mark Rummel joined us. He’s a dedicated morel hunter, and I’m a regular
Euell Gibbons when it comes to stalking the wild asparagus. We agree
there is no finer time to be in the woods than early spring, especially
those fleeting but precious days after the trillium blossoms and before
the mosquitoes hatch.
This expedition, alas, was ill-timed. The
season’s first brood of mosquitoes had emerged, and it didn’t take them
long to draw blood.
Nor did it take long, fortunately, for the Collinses to lead us to a sprinkling of painted trillium.
were, I’ll admit, a bit of disappointment. In a well-cropped
photograph, the painted trillium is a striking, gorgeous flower. In the
field, it is rather small and less impressive than its more common
cousins, the large white trillium or the red trillium.
painted trillium, or striped wake-robin as it’s also called, is quite
lovely, but only if you kneel and get close enough to appreciate its
While I swatted at mosquitoes, Bill Collins freed a swarm of facts to buzz among them.
painted trillium, he told me, is a member of the lily family. It loves
acidic, sandy soils that are moist but not too wet. It’s often found
among hemlock, pine and paper birch, or the “mesic northern forest” if
you want to get fancy. It favors “tip-up mounds,” the well-decayed root
balls of storm-toppled trees.
Its name has Swedish roots,
derived from the word “trilling,” which I gather means triplet, an apt
name for a three-leaf, three-petal flower.
Michigan, the painted trillium is found in Kimball and Clyde townships,
and just about nowhere else. The Collinses know of a stand in Port
Huron Township, but they fear it’s doomed by encroaching development.
Suburbs recently overtook a patch in Fort Gratiot. A stand in Sanilac
County was destroyed shortly after it was discovered.
A trillium plant can survive for 40 or more years, blossoming spring after spring, but it’s a precarious existence.
a man on a bulldozer disturbs the seed bed and the roots, and destroys
the canopy, it can take maybe a century for a forest to restore
itself,” Bill said. “Sometimes it’ll never come back. In Macomb County,
there are a lot of junk woods surrounded by subdivisions. Those woods
will never recover. Whatever the wind blows in will tend to be weedy.”
first met Cheryl Collins more than 15 years ago. She was an articulate
critic of the Fort Gratiot Sanitary Landfill and the poisons she feared
might be leaching from it.
Bill and I share this: We’re both Eagle Scouts, and we both spent green and golden summers working at Scout camps.
several years in the 1970s and ’80s, Bill taught nature courses at
Silver Trails Scout Reservation on the Black River near Jeddo. He
studied botany at Michigan State and after graduation took a job as a
wetlands ecologist for a Troy engineering firm. In 1998, he and Cheryl
started their own company.
I have no idea if Bill is the world’s
foremost authority on the painted trillium, but he certainly makes the
short list. He is almost unquestionably the leading authority on an
even more arcane topic: Charles Keene Dodge, the amateur botanist who
first identified painted trillium in St. Clair County.
list of Port Huron’s notable and memorable residents would be complete
without Dodge, an attorney and the deputy collector of customs in an
era when the job was a political — and enviable — appointment.
in 1844 near Jackson, he graduated from the University of Michigan in
1870. He landed in Port Huron a few years later after being admitted to
Dodge’s passion was botany. Studying and collecting
plants consumed his free time. He roamed field and forest on his
bicycle, preferring it to a buggy, and carried “a much-battered
vasculum,” or specimen case. His friends took to calling him “Posy.”
this information comes from an article Bill Collins wrote three years
ago for The Lakeshore Guardian. He noted that when Dodge died in 1917,
he left his collection of about 40,000 specimens to his alma mater,
where they remain part of the Michigan Herbarium.
1897, at the tender age of 53, Dodge surrendered his bachelorhood and
married Millie Burns. They set up housekeeping at 2805 Gratiot Ave.
years later, Dodge published his masterpiece, Flora of St. Clair
County, Michigan, and the Western Part of Lambton County, Ontario. He
later would write a chapter on flora for the History of St. Clair
County, a 1911 work by his friend and fellow barrister, William Lee
It was Dodge who first called for setting aside a forest
preserve at the confluence of Mill Creek and the Black River. That
sublime landscape now sits at the heart of the Port Huron State Game
Area, which Bill Collins describes as a peerless jewel.
Port Huron State Game Area contains some of the most pristine forest
and scenic areas in all of southeastern Michigan,” he wrote in 2002,
when he put together a 14-page synopsis of St. Clair County’s ecology
for Troy Feltman, then the county administrator. “It is on par with the
Tahquamenon Falls area in the Upper Peninsula.”
One only can imagine Dodge applauding. In 1911, he wrote a passage that remains as relevant today as then:
seems to the writer that it has been established beyond cavil that a
country cannot be stripped of its trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants
without the greatest danger to its welfare. It is a matter about which,
in this country, there is widespread and almost universal ignorance and