Persistent Trillium

views updated

Persistent Trillium

Trillium persistens

ListedApril 26, 1978
FamilyLiliaceae (Lily)
DescriptionPerennial with oval leaves and pink flowers.
HabitatWoodland gorges in deep loam.
ThreatsRestricted range, logging.
RangeGeorgia, South Carolina


Persistent trillium, Trillium persistens, is a perennial plant, characterized by having most plant parts in "threes." The stem, 8-20 in (20-51 cm) tall, grows from an underground rhizome; at the tip, it bears a whorl of three oval leaves and a single, showy three-petaled pink flower with a three-chambered pistil. The weight of the flower pulls the flower stalk downward so that it faces the ground. The fruit is a berry.

Persistent trillium blooms from mid-March through mid-April. Mature fruits shed seeds in July. Ants are apparently the primary agent of seed dispersal. It takes seven to ten years to produce a mature flowering plant. Individual plants can live as long as 30 years.


Persistent trillium grows in a wide variety of habitats, but seems to prefer deciduous or mixed-deciduous forests in well-decomposed litter and loose loam. Colonies have been found in open glades or beneath mature trees in woods dominated by hemlock, white pine, beech, chestnut oak, white oak, or black oak. Occasional plant associates include rhododendron and galax.


Persistent trillium was first collected from the Tallulah Gorge along the Georgia-South Carolina border in 1950. Before the Tugaloo River was dammed to form Yonah and Tugaloo Lakes, a large contiguous population probably extended along both banks of the river in Georgia and South Carolina.

Persistent trillium is known from populations in Rabun, Habersham, and Stephens Counties in Georgia and from adjacent Oconee County, South Carolina. It is confined to the Tallulah-Tugaloo river drainage, which includes Panther, Moccasin, and Battle Creeks. The population numbered about 4,000 mature flowering plants in 1983. The vast majority of flowering plants (94%) were located on lands owned and managed by the Georgia Power Company. Plants in the upper portion of Tallulah Gorge occur within a privately owned park that charges admission for visitors to the gorge.


Persistent trillium has declined primarily because of alterations to the drainage system. Several major dams and reservoirs have inundated former habitat and fragmented the range. Selective logging, which is present in all the known populations, has had some impact on the species, although the extent of the damage is unknown. One theory is that thinning or clear-cutting the overstory will destroy the species while another theory is that selective cutting might not be too detrimental. Researchers believe that the species is better able to withstand tree thinning in mesic habitats than in submesic habitats.

Persistent trillium does not tolerate fires and there is evidence of past fires in the species' habitat. Precautions need to be taken to reduce the threat of wildfires and to eliminate prescribed burning. Tallulah Gorge is a major recreation area and some of the colonies of persistent trillium are vulnerable to hikers.

Conservation and Recovery

Since persistent trillium was added to the federal list of endangered species, federal and state agencies and several private organizations have initiated important efforts to protect it. In 1979 it was given priority for protection by the South Carolina Heritage Trust Program. Negotiations with the Georgia Power Company to secure the Battle Creek site as a preserve were carried out by the South Carolina Nature Conservancy. In 1981 and again in 1983, extensive surveys of the gorge area were conducted by state and power company biologists.

In 1979 the Georgia Department of Natural Resources began working with the Georgia Power Company to develop an agreement to conserve the Georgia populations. A written agreement was signed in 1982, and in 1983 state biologists began close collaboration with power company staff to develop a long-term management plan for persistent trillium. Interim management recommendations have been adopted with the full cooperation of the power company.

State, U. S. Forest Service, and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) personnel have cooperated on a regional survey and have located sites where the plant could potentially be reintroduced. Since 1982, persistent trillium has been cultivated at the Callaway Gardens with the goal of propagating plants for use in the reintroduction effort.

Georgia Power proposed to develop several hundred acres of the Tallulah Gorge for recreation. Because the power company is a licensee of the Federal Power Commission, it is required by law to consult with the FWS to ensure that construction and related activities do not significantly harm persistent trillium.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345


Duncan, W. H., J. F. Garst, and G. A. Neece. 1971."Trillium persistens (Liliaceae), a New Pedicellate-Flowered Species from Northeastern Georgia and Adjacent South Carolina." Rhodora 73: 244-248.

Tucker, M. 1975. "Cliffs of Tallulah." Brown's Guide to Georgia 3 (1): 38-41.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1984. "Persistent Trillium (Trillium persistens ) Recovery Plan." U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta.