Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Trillium Trail

Note, click on images to view full size.

Location:  N 40º  31.201’    W 079º  54.029’

Trillium Trail is a small nature trail devoted to wildflowers located on Squaw Run Road in Fox Chapel Borough, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.  The park is owned and maintained by Fox Chapel Borough.  It is located in a heavily wooded valley and is famous for its annual growth of trilliums in early May.  The trail is open to the public from dawn to dusk.  I believe I saw a sign prohibiting dog walking.  There is limited parking at various locations on the road side.

I first saw Trillium Trail in the late 80s and the trilliums were magnificent.  The trilliums were so dense that the entire hillside was white with blossoms.  Unfortunately the deer population expanded and for several years the ground was barren.  A fenced enclosure was installed to keep out the deer and the trilliums are back, not quite to their previous glory, but quite impressive nevertheless.   

The fence has a large grid and is fairly unobtrusive.  The upper elevation of the trail is inside the enclosure so it is possible to get photos without the fence.  The trail is heavily wooded with old growth trees.  There are some magnificent huge sycamores, oaks, and tulip poplars in the reserve.  The songbirds of the deep woods are evident along the trail, red eyed vireos, wood thrush, and the red bellied wood pecker.  It is almost hard to believe that one is only 8 miles from downtown Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately the trail runs parallel with Squaw Run Road and I was dismayed with the incessant traffic.  Yet even with the traffic, the trail is a beautiful place, just a bit noisy. 

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have these various patches of green usually associated with steep stream ravines which are impractical for development.  Such was the case with the woods near my home as a child.  What a wonderful place to grow up.  The woods were in our backyard and one could meander for a mile or so and yet never be more than a tenth of mile from one of the suburban streets.  The ravine made it seem like you were in the wilderness—ok so it was a wilderness invaded with the sound of lawnmowers, yet for a kid to be able to walk out the door and in 100 feet enter the woods that visually were a wilderness with all the high adventure that young minds can imagine…it was simply a magnificent place to grow up.

Wild Blue Phlox

I visited Trillium Trail on May 11, 2011 with the intention of getting some photos of the hillside covered with trilliums.  The blossoms were a little past their prime but other wise I was not disappointed.  Not only did I see the trillium but there were other wildflowers as well. It proved to be a lovely walk.  If you look at the background around the sign in the photo above, you will see our first flower.  Wlid blue phlox, Phlox divaricata, although these are lavender in color which according to my flower book, they can be blue to purple.  No stamens visible.  The petal is often indented.  Hmmmm!  Some of mine seem to be indented or are they pointed?  I didn’t see any in the book that were pointed.  

Wild Geranium
The next flower I came upon is the wild geranium, Geranium maculatum.  Note the very deeply cut leaves

Trillium grandiflorum

And now for the name sake of the trail the large flowered trillium, Trillium grandiflorum.  The state flower of Ohio and the emblem of the Province of Ontario, Canada.

Don’t pick the trilliums.  The seeds of the plant take 2 years to germinate, and the plant takes 7 to 10 years to reach a sufficient size to flower.  So every flower you see in the woods is on a plant that is at least 9 years old.  With it being a favorite food of deer and collecting from commercial nurseries, the plant is endangered in many areas.  Do not try to transplant the trillium to your yard.  It is very sensitive to transplantation shock and generally will not survive.  Bear in mind when you see a flowering trillium, you are looking at a plant that has been around for almost a decade if not longer.  The only reason they have survived here at Trillium Trail is the fence.  I saw the barren hills here in the early 90s and it was a shock.    
Click on image to view full size, note trilliums in the background.

I came here a little too late this year.  I should have come last week.  The first photo shows two trilliums.  The better looking blossom is only a bit past its prime but the pink blossom is a bloom that is well past its prime.  The second photo is the patch of trilliums taken from blossom level, and the last photo shows the hillside, click to view it full size and note the trilliums high up on the hill.  Again without the fence, the lion’s share of these trilliums would not be here.  I did not see any purple trilliums described on the sign. 

False Soloman's Seal

The next wildflower I ran into is false Soloman’s seal.  The plant is similar to (true?) Soloman’s seal, but it has a different type of flower.  The false has a flower cluster often referred to as a raceme in the field guides.  I have come a bit early, I don’t believe the flower clusters in my photos are fully formed. The true and false Soloman’s seal are both of the lily family but of a different genus.  The best I can tell with my limited knowledge is that the plants in these photos are just known as false Solomon’s seal, Smilacina racemosa.
Soloman's Seal

Now for the “true” Solomon’s seal, perhaps the unfalse Soloman’s seal.  As near as I can tell this is simply Polygonatum biflorum, which one guide calls Soloman’s seal, and the other guide refers to as smooth Solomon’s seal.  It could also be hairy Solomon’s seal which is very similar to the smooth except the under leaf veins are hairy under magnification. 


 Well I did not have my field guide or magnifying glass on the trip, so let’s pick one--a venal sin in the world of botany.  I say smooth, I see no evidence of hair on the photos, so P. biflorum it is, although it could be hairy which has a bit of a racy name…P. pubescens.  To hell with it, it is Soloman’s seal.  The flowers are rather unique.  They are bells that hang in a series of pairs from alternate leaves under the main stem.   

May Apple

The next flower that I came across is one of my favorites most likely because it was one of my first discoveries in the world of wildflowers.  The first spring after we had moved from Mount Washington above downtown Pittsburgh to Monroeville, I wandered that 100 feet from our yard to the edge of the woods.  In the shade of the woods I found these curious umbrellas. 

I looked under the leaves and wow!  Look at that beautiful flower!  I can still remember the serendipity of the moment (although I wouldn’t have called it that at the time).  It was like being in a magical world after having spent my first five years in the city.  This was May of 1955.  I was 6 years old. 

Indeed, you can’t see the flower on a may apple, Podophyllum pelatum while standing. Even a 6 year old child can’t.  The umbrella like leaves stand about 12 to 18 inches off the ground.  You have to peek under the umbrellas.  The flower later forms one small fruit. 

Getting down to take a peak for a 6 year old is easy, for a 62 year old with arthritic knees and a bad back, it is a bit more of a chore but one that still pays off in wonder.  It is a magnificent world under those umbrellas. 

White Violet

Ignore the out of focus violet,  look at the background. It is amazing!
Next I came upon some white and yellow violets.  My camera refused to focus on the yellow one regardless of what I tried.  I included the photo here as further testimony to what a complex wonderful world the understory can be.  It is almost magical.  South western Pennsylvania is considered a temperate rainforest.  You can see why! 

Upper Trail

I climbed up the hill to return back on the upper trail.  For a moment I was excited, ahhhh a dogwood—but it was kind of a skimpy one from a distance, a beautiful small understory tree that is very common in this area.  They are really nothing to get excited about, my mother’s house has two in the yard that she transplanted out of the woods, but they are blooming now and I was hoping to get a photo. 

This ain't no Dogwood

Wait, this ain’t no dogwood (ain’t no—double negative, ergo it is a dogwood?)  My shrubbery field guide (for someone that knows next to nothing about nature, I sure have a lot of field guides) says that it is a viburnum. 
This is Dogwood

I laughed when I read that.  My father and brother-in-law (not at the time) used to pal around in the woods when I was at that curious age, 18 to 21, not quite a child any longer (a child has better sense—not being driven by testosterone) and absolutely not an adult.  I was pursuing a late teen life style of chasing girls (with not much success) and partying (with better success) and had no time for farting around in the woods with my silly father and weird naturalist friend.  So my friend and father became friends and I partied.  How I would now love to turn back the clock and go farting around the woods with my father and brother-in-law.  Well that is one of those regrets that all you can do is regret.  Anyhow, one day my father and I are up on the edge of the woods working in the garden.  My father points out a few things in the woods and identifies them showing off his new found knowledge.  I pointed to some non-descript bush and said “What is this Dad?”  He replied “Oh that would be one of the viburnums.”  Then he laughed.  I asked why the laugh.  He told me that through observation of my brother-in-law and his many naturalist pals that any time they didn’t know what something was they would say it is one of the viburnums.  This was done with a straight face, not with a wink and a chuckle.  So according to my father, the viburnum is a taxonomic shit can where you can dispose any embarrassing unknown species and still keep an air of respectability about yourself, and nobody seems to question it.  It seemed to be one of those unstated rules.

Hobble bush, note leaves for identification

So anyhow, according to my shrubbery guide this is a vibernum.  Upon a second look, figuring out how to use the guide which is actually neat, it turns out to be a hobble-bush.  The flowers identified as a type II viburnum and the leaves keyed it to hobble-bush, Viburnum alnifolium.  It has a curious flower.  The big showy blooms on the border are sterile.  The real flower is actually a collection of blooms in the middle, of which only the center bloom has opened in my photo, the rest are still buds.  Kind of cool, I wished I could have shared this with my father.  The viburnums can be more than a taxonomical shit can.        

After the hobble-bush, the darkness was starting to descend so I decided to head back to the car.  I spotted this commemorative rock.  Ruth, you did good, nice trail in a lovely woods.

Jack In The Pulpit
There were several flowers that I thought I would see but didn’t.  One is the jack in the pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum.  The one we are seeing here is from my Geocaching days back in May of 2004.  Actually I despise jack in the pulpits.  Too damned cutesy of a name and people always make such a big damned deal about it.  It gets under my skin, and I don’t really know why. To be honest it is a really cool flower, but the huge production made whenever someone spots one just irritates the hell out of me.  You know a story is coming.

My wife and I were here at Trillium Trail in the late 80s on a  Sunday (too damned crowded, don’t go on a Sunday especially when the trilliums are out).  A rather obese woman walks up to us and says “Have you seen the jack in the pulpit?”  

 “Have” was pronounced so that it rhymed with “of” and was held far too long.  The “you” was sing songy and ended up about three octaves above the “have”, seemed to have five syllables in it, and ended with an h.  “Seen the” was short and at the same musical note as “have”.  “Jack in the pulpit?” as you can imagine was slimy with falsetto.  “Jack” was pronounced jhaque and held way too long.  The “in the pulpit” was screeched in an operatic voice that seemed to rise twelve octaves. The “pit” at the end contained four syllables each going up an octave.  I don’t know if I can give a graphical representation of this query or not, but here is an attempt.  Sing it from left to right and raise and lower your voice in your absolute gaggiest operatic falsetto as indicated by the height of the word or twilled syllable.

The Libretto Of The Opera Have You  Seen The Jack In The Pulpit
I answered politely that yes we did, thank you.  But I was pissed.  This query just dripped with condescending arrogance.  There were probably 10 species of wildflowers about our feet.  Did she ask about the wild geranium, the violet, or even the trillium in a kind voice, like “Oh look at this is a violet? Is it not lovely?”  No, she only asked about the frigging cutesy shit ass little stupid jack in the pulpit in a voice fit for Metropolitan Opera and IT JUST PISSED ME OFF.  There was an air of superiority, as though my wife and I were not intellectually, taxonomically, or morally good enough to see a damned jack in the pulpit.  Never go to Trillium Trail on a Sunday in May when the jack in the pulpit is blooming. Oh yes, I didn’t lie, we had seen a jack in the pulpit.  I hate the damn things.    


The flower that I had hoped to see is bluets, Houstonia caerulea.  The photo here is again from my Geocaching days in May of 2004.  This became my favorite wildflower from my exercise walking era back in the early 90s.  First big advantage, no one will ever make a big deal about bluets (except me).  They will not sing the name is operatic falsetto.  They will not oohhh and ahhhh and crowd around and generally makes asses of themselves over bluets.  Bluets are common, bluets are easy to see, bluets are somewhat plain jane, and bluets do not have a cutesy name.  Its hard to say bluets in sing songy cutesiness.  There is an industrial air about bluets, they are in the business of herbaceous reproduction—not the business of entertaining human beings.     Bluets are clumps of four petaled blossoms, smaller than a dime in diameter.   

Image Credit, J. S. Pippen  see link below, note cross

They are pale blue to white and have this remarkable double legged yellow cross in the center.  It is a very small and delicate flower.  Well, I was walking one fine morning in May in the woods above our home.  It was a cool morning with bright sunshine, blue skies, and puffy white cumulous clouds sailing through the sky.  There was a bit of a breeze.  I spotted this clump of bluets along the path and stopped to have a look.  They were swaying gently in breeze and then it happened.  I had one of my now moments—as usual only for a moment, but a timeless moment.  The absolute vulnerability of this delicate tiny flower bravely swaying in the breeze just broke my heart.  Time stopped, the veil parted, and for an instant I stared into the bittersweet Infinity through a finite clump of gently swaying bluets….

As usual, my chatterbox mind shouted “It’s happening…It’s happening” in joy and then, zap… it was gone.  For a brief moment a clump of bluets led me to Eternity, and so it became not just one of my favorites, but the favorite wildflower.  


Newcomb, Lawrence.  Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.  Boston: Little, Brown & Company,  1977. 

Peterson, Roger Tory, and Margaret McKenny.  A Field Guide to Wildflowers.  Northeastern and North-central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968.

Symonds, George W. D. The Shrub Identification Book. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1963.

Image Credit:

Enlarged Bluets:, Jeffrey S. Pippen, North Carolina Wildflowers, Houstonia

All other photos:  me 


  1. Well if your DSL is acting up...I couldn't tell....looks all good to me.

    Love the photos. You could have a blog of just photos and it would be all I need. Although, I did notice on one of your pics...the yellow violet is out of focus. Maybe the the title should be .." Lovely shot of out of focus yellow violet " Or is just my eyes ? Fix that will ya !

    Those woods you describe near your childhood home....excellent for adults, never mind kids. There should be more stuff like that around.
    Timeless exploring opportunities.

    And now with time behind us as hindsight...don't we just wish we could go back in time and relive some old memories, or make more of them when we were there at the time ?? I know I do, well I guess we all do.

  2. The DSL has been down more than it has been working. Sometimes I can coax it back to life by calling my cell phone. It will work for 5 minutes then crash for hours. The phone company will be out tomorrow, put on their usual band aid and it will work good for a week to a month. Something big needs replaced or repaired and they are not doing it. Water is getting into the system someplace. It is the same thing every time. They check the house, no problem, then they go out to the pole fiddle for about 20 minutes without fixing anything, then they disappear for 2 hours, then come back and the problem is fixed. They know what the problem is, but they don't do anything but put band aids on. I can't blame the technicians, it is the phone company not willing to spend the money on whatever needs repaired. They are too busy making money off of 4G mobile, and wiring up the yuppie neighborhoods with fiber optic systems to be bothered with this old community's circa 1920 phone system. The billing is very reliable, though. I have never had a billing problem.

    I could not get the damn camera to focus on that yellow violet. I posted the photo for the background, the veritable jungle in that photo just blew me away. I am not real pleased with the low light macro abilities of my camera. It is a super zoom and they use a small image receptor so that the zoom lens can be a reasonable size. Unfortunately that works against the camera's low light ability.

    I really like my new GPS the company gave me for my 35 years, but damn, I now wished I would have went for that Canon G-12. I didn't want bothered carrying two cameras. Hmmmm. That was before I tried taking this set of pictures last week! The SX20 really sucks in low light. My old 2 megapixel PowerShot A60 performed better. Bear in mind that if the switch is not in auto, I can't use the camera. Damn! I really do like the new GPS though, it is worlds better than that disappointing Garmin 5000 that I spent an arm and a leg for. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t!