Thismia americana – Wikipedia

Species of plant

Thismia americana, known as thismia[2] or banded Trinity[3] was a species of flowering plant that was first described by Norma Etta Pfeiffer in 1914 as living in wetlands surrounding Chicago’s Lake Calumet.[4] The type specimen was found in what was then a wet-mesic sand prairie at 119th Street and Torrence Avenue in what would become the industrial neighborhood of South Deering.[5] The plant has not been seen since 1916, and the ground where it was observed has since been extensively altered by industrial development. The species is believed to be extinct.[2] Several extensive searches have not uncovered any living specimens of the vanished species.[6][7][8]

However, preserved specimens exist. One was located in the Naturalis Bioiversity Centre in the Netherlands in 2022. In the 1980s, one of Pfeiffer’s specimens had been sent to the Utrecht herbarium, but it went missing after the collection moved to a new site in 2006. This was located when staff undertook delayed maintenance and curation during the COVID-19 epidemic.[9]

Life cycle[edit]

Thismia americana drew interest from botanists because of its extremely specialized ecological niche. T. americana lacked chlorophyll. Instead of converting solar energy, the flowering plant was a mycoheterotroph, utilizing local fungi of the southern Lake Michigan wetlands for its nourishment. The plant enjoyed a short, shy life cycle above ground; in July, its roots would sprout a tiny flowering head, which produced a white flower the size of a jewelry bead.[2]

Thismia americana was published by University of Chicago student Norma Etta Pfeiffer in her doctoral thesis Morphology of Thismia americana, who became the first and only scientist to collect the species. By examining the plant’s morphology, Pfeiffer determined that it was a species of the genus Thismia, a genus that at the time was believed to occur only in the Southern Hemisphere. No one knows how this isolated population survived in North America until historic times.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Thismia americana N.Pfeiff”. The Plant List. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Chew, Ryan (2004). “Thismia Americana – A mystery that still haunts – and helps – the Calumet region” (PDF). Chicago Wilderness Magazine. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 26, 2015. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
  3. ^ USDA. “Thismia americana N.E. Pfeiffer”. Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  4. ^ Pfeiffer, Norma Etta (1914). Morphology of Thismia Americana … University of Chicago. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
  5. ^ Rodkin, Dennis (September 22, 1994). “Searching for Thismia”. Chicago Reader. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
  6. ^ Bowles, M., M. Jones, L. Wetstein, R. Hyerczk, and K. Klick. (1994). Results of a systematic search for Thismia americana Pfeiffer in Illinois (PDF) (Report). The Morton Arboretum. Retrieved 2018-12-02.{{cite report}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  7. ^ Merckx, Vincent S. F. T.; Smets, Erik F.; Kellogg, Elizabeth A. (2014). “Thismia americana, the 101st Anniversary of a Botanical Mystery”. International Journal of Plant Sciences. 175 (2): 165–175. doi:10.1086/674315. JSTOR 10.1086/674315. S2CID 84525776.
  8. ^ Arthur Melville Pearson, “A Quest for the Great White Grail”, Outdoor Illinois XIX:11 (November 2011), pages 6-7.
  9. ^ “The rediscovery of a small flower with a big mystery / De herontdekking van een klein bloemetje met een groot mysterie (in Dutch)”. Nature Today. Retrieved 5 February 2022.

Further reading[edit]