Trilliums for the Wildflower Garden
Interesting how some of the wildflowers appear to have an offensive scent as does the Wake Robin, or Trillium erectum, written about below. Makes one wonder about the plan for them or why they have adapted this way.
These are a wildflower for a shade garden and love the deep shade to open shade but definitely the shade. They are deep woods plants. The Wake Robin trillium likes slightly acid, humus rich soil. If you have a shaded spot with lots of leaf mold, that’s the place to plant it.
These flowers, if you wish them in your wildflower garden, should be planted from the rhizomes that develop on older plants. Plant about two to four inches deep in the fall.
Just remember to get your root stock from a reputable nursery. T. erectum is considered endangered in Illinois and explitably vulnerable in New York. T. sessile is considered threatened in Michigan and endangered in New York.
Do not expect to use these flowers as cut flowers as the three leaves are the source of nutrients for the root rhizomes and to take them may kill the plant.
(Note: You might want to look into the T. grandiflorum for your wildflower garden rather than either of the below. The blossom is white and has a larger flower that turns pink as they mature. Additionally there are 39 species of Trillium.)
Another name for the Wake Robin, T. erectum, is Stinking Benjamin. Now for our compendium entry.
PURPLE TRILLIUM, ILL-SCENTED WAKE-ROBIN or BIRTH-ROOT
(Trillium erectum) Lily-of-the-Valley family
Flowers – Solitary, dark, dull purple, or purplish red; rarely greenish, white, or pinkish; on erect or slightly inclined footstalk. Calyx of 3 spreading sepals, 1 to 1 1/2 in. long, or about length of 3 pointed, oval petals; stamens 6; anthers longer than filaments; pistil spreading into 3 short, recurved stigmas.
Stem: Stout, 8 to 16 in. high, from tuber-like rootstock.
Leaves: In a whorl of 3; broadly ovate, abruptly pointed, netted-veined.
Fruit: A 6-angled, ovate, reddish berry.
Preferred Habitat – Rich, moist woods.
Flowering Season – April-June.
Distribution – Nova Scotia westward to Manitoba, southward to North Carolina and Missouri.
Some weeks after the jubilant, alert robins have returned from the South, the purple trillium unfurls its unattractive, carrion-scented flower. In the variable colors found in different regions, one can almost trace its evolution from green, white, and red to purple, which, we are told, is the course all flowers must follow to attain to blue. The white and pink forms, however attractive to the eye, are never more agreeable to the nose than the reddish-purple ones. Bees and butterflies, with delicate appreciation of color and fragrance, let the blossom alone, since it secretes no nectar; and one would naturally infer either that it can fertilize itself without insect aid – a theory which closer study of its organs goes far to disprove – or that the carrion-scent, so repellent to us, is in itself an attraction to certain insects needful for cross-pollination. Which are they?
Beetles have been observed crawling over the flower, but without effecting any methodical result. One inclines to accept Mr. Clarence M. Weed’s theory of special adaptation to the common green flesh-flies (Lucilia carnicina), which would naturally be attracted to a flower resembling in color and odor a raw beefsteak of uncertain age. These little creatures, seen in every butcher shop throughout the summer, the flower furnishes with a free lunch of pollen in consideration of the transportation of a few grains to another blossom. Absence of the usual floral attractions gives, the carrion flies a practical monopoly of the pollen food, which no doubt tastes as it smells.
The SESSILE-FLOWERED WAKE-ROBIN (T. sessile), whose dark purple, purplish-red, or greenish blossom, narrower of sepal and petals than the preceding, is seated in a whorl of three egg-shaped, sometimes blotched, leaves, possesses a rather pleasant odor; nevertheless it seems to have no great attraction for insects. The stigmas, which are very large, almost touch the anthers surrounding them; therefore the beetles which one frequently sees crawling over them to feed on the pollen so jar them, no doubt, as to self-fertilize the flower; but it is scarcely probable these slow crawlers often transfer the grains from one blossom to another. A degraded flower like this has little need of color and perfume, one would suppose; yet it may be even now slowly perfecting its way toward an ideal of which we see a part only complete. In deep, rich, moist woods and thickets the sessile trillium blooms in April or May, from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Minnesota southward nearly to the Gulf.
The second species above, T. sessile, is also called a toadshade or toad trillium. Toadshade only grows to six to ten inches tall. It appears to be more known for its mottled leaves than the flower itself. As noted above it is not a stinker like the Wake Robin above.
If you do desire to grow either one of these trilliums in your wildflower garden, do not try growing from seed unless you like long term projects. It can take years for the seed to produce a blossom and that could certainly cut short your enjoyment of your wildflower garden. However, you may wish to consider these flowers, at least one or two of the species, as part of your shade garden also.
For a look at what a trillium looks like, see the fine art flower posters below.