Unlike green plants, the Banded Trinity Flower can't harness the sun's energy to make its own food. Instead, it lives much of its life underground, feeding on a fungus that grows on its roots. Once a year, a pearl-sized and practically transparent flower emerges. Its three striped petals remain joined at the top, creating a cathedral-like triple arch that give the species its common name. Pollinators penetrate the well beneath these arches to fertilize the plant, which produces tiny seeds in autumn. Ghostly photographs and specimens in The Field Museum's collections and elsewhere are all that remain to remind us of the Banded Trinity Flower.
Better known as Thismia americana, this fragile beauty was found only in wetlands surrounding Chicago's Lake Calumet. The plant hasn't been seen since 1916, when industry moved into the area. Over the last 20 years, The Field Museum has organized "Thismia Hunts" and inventories of other plants and animals in the area. The goal is to bring attention to the Calumet region's amazing biological diversity. As a result, more than 1,500 acres have been protected, restored, and dedicated as a nature preserve.