Photo: Brian Carson with a cluster of rare double trilliums at his home in Stittsville. Photo by Devyn Barrie.
Brian Carson has spent nearly two decades on the hunt for the “holy grail of North American wildflower,” and it’s caused his home garden — and retirement — to bloom.
Carson’s interest in the trillium began around 2000 when he read an article by flower explorer Mary Henry that described a rare type of trillium, called the “double trillium”, about which she used the holy grail analogy.
“Instead of having the three petals like a normal trillium does, this one has several dozen petals,” Carson said. They’re so rare because they don’t produce seeds and can only be reproduced via splitting its rhizome in the hopes a clone will sprout.
After reading the article, he started going on exploration trips of his own searching for trilliums and went all-in on the hobby after retiring as a masonry contractor about ten years ago. After retirement, he moved to Stittsville and started his garden.
“When I first started looking… I started getting late to the job site every day,” he said. “It took me ten years to find the first (double trillium).”
Today, he has some of the few double trilliums known to have naturally sprouted in the region transplanted directly into his garden in Stittsville from where he found them near Shawville.
While there are five species of trillium found in Ontario, Carson’s garden boasts a number of mutated varieties of some of those species. He said they are easy to find if you look in the right places.
“I have discovered a lot of interesting mutations,” he said, such as collection of what he called Amazon trilliums. They have two female parts and no male parts and as a result will not sprout.
“Mutations happen in nature. If you have one billion flowers, there are going to be mistakes made,” he said. “Some (mutations) are beautiful, some are not.”
His garden has been noticed internationally, as well. He said botanical gardens in North America and overseas have contacted him about visiting his garden and possibly obtaining some of his collection to bring back to their own for display and preservation.
While he’s had some finds on trails in Stittsville, a lot of his flowers were located around his cottage near Shawville. Few others are exploring, so he said there’s lots for him to discover. Peak trillium exploration season usually runs from about the last week of April (this season it was delayed until the first week of May) until the first week of June, he said.
He said there is a very simple reason why he continues the hunt.
“To save these beautiful flowers that would otherwise be bulldozed,” he said. “Acres and acres and acres of these have been bulldozed (due to development.)”