Jeff Green | May 19, 2005
Nature Reflections,May 19, 2005
Nature Reflections May 19, 2005LAND O' LAKES NewsWeb Home
Contact UsThe Trillium family
May is the season when the Trilliums display their beauty. This family gets its name from the Latin for three with the leaves in whorls of three, and the flowers with three petals. To some, symbolizing the return of the Robin, it is often referred to as Wake-Robin. Growing from short, thick rhizomes it takes about fifteen years for the plant to bloom, and if the bloom or leaves are picked it may kill the plant or seriously weaken it, so please enjoy them in the wild. In fact, in areas where there is an excess of deer, which sometimes happens in provincial parks and elsewhere, the trilliums may be destroyed after repeated browsing. Clear cutting can destroy a colony, as the plants do not usually survive full sunlight. Being collected by native Americans and herbalists for medicinal reasons can also endanger their survival. Trillium populations do not expand rapidly because of a small dispersal area for their seeds. Dispersal may be done by ants or by chipmunks that are attracted to the seeds and carry them to their nests, and to a lesser degree, by Yellow Jacket Wasps.
The most familiar of the trilliums is the White or Large-Flowered Trilliums which sometimes looks like a carpet on the forest floor opening under a variety of hardwoods that have not yet burst their buds or opened their leaves. The White Trillium has been Ontarios floral emblem since 1937, with the white blossom associated with peace and hope. As the flower ages, it will turn pink (it is not a different species) before it withers. The White Trillium is prone to mutation, and can sometimes be found with more numerous petals, stamens, etc., and sometimes with petals striped with green.
Stinking Benjamin or the Red Trillium is not as common in our area, so I was delighted to see a carpet of them in southwestern Ontario one spring. The dark red flower is ill-smelling to attract insects for pollination. Found in open, moist, rich woods it may bloom slightly later than its white relative (though I have sometimes found it earlier).
But there are other Trilliums, even more beautiful. The Painted Trillium is small and delicate and has three, wavy white petals with splashes of deep red-purple as the centre. Found in rich, acid soils, it blooms in late May, and one single, bright red berry develops over the summer.
Then there is the Nodding Trillium, often overlooked because the flower hangs or nods below the leaves, with sharply recurved petals. Similar in size to the White Trillium, which carries its flower above the leaves, the Nodding can also be distinguished by its purple pistil and stamens, whereas the White Trillium has yellow pistil and stamens.
If you have either of the latter two growing on your property, or even if you have just seen them, consider yourself fortunate.