Trillium Trivia By: Steve Roark TN Dept. Agriculture, Forestry Division

One of the most beautiful wildflowers to see in the Spring are trilliums, which are members of the Lily family. They are easy to find this time of year in rich, moist woods along rivers, streams, and in deep hollows. There are several species growing in our area, but all are easy to identify. The average trillium is 12 to 18 inches tall with a stout, erect stem.  At the top will be a whorl of 3 broad leaves with a single flower just above the leaves with 3 petals.  Most trilliums have flowers supported by a stem just above the leaves (botanists call this pedicellate). But sessile trillium, also known as toadshade, (Trillium sessile) has no flower stem and the 3 petals appear to come directly out of the leaves. The sessile trilliums I have found locally have yellow petals, but some are dark red. The leaves of sessile trilliums have whitish splotches.

Here is a description of some other local trilliums:  White trillium (Trillium grandifolia) has large white petals that gradually turn pinkish as they get older.  Red trillium (Trillium erectum) is also called wakerobin and has blood red flowers.   Probably the prettiest trillium in the forest is painted trillium (Trillium undulatum), which has white petals with a blaze of red in the center of the flower. They are smaller than other trilliums, and I’ve only found it in big mountain country.

Historically, trillium has served both as a food and as a medicinal.  The root is a bulb and has been used to treat convulsions, induce menstrual flow, induce vomiting, as an expectorant, and a uterine astringent (contracts the uterus).  Indians also cooked pieces of root with other food as an aphrodisiac.  The leaves of trillium have been used as a salad or cooked green if picked before they fully unfold. Most would prefer that trillium be left alone to provide a nice splash of color to a spring woodland walk.

Some other interesting trillium trivia includes their surprisingly longevity for a small herbaceous plant (25 years). Trillium seeds have an oily sack (an elaiosome in botany speak) attached to them that is protein rich and very attractive to ants, who carry the seed to their nest to consume it and then discard the seed, thus helping spread them around to other places.

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