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Trillium

 


 
KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassLiliopsidaMonocots (plants with a single seed leaf); includes the lily family
SubclassLiliidaeIncludes lilies, orchids, and many others
OrderLilialesIncludes lilies, tulips, trilliums, greenbriars, and others
FamilyMelanthiaceaeTrillium family
GenusTrillium“Three-petaled lily”

About plant names...

Trilliums are members of the lily family. They comprise about 40-50 species. Typically relatively small forest-dwelling plants, they are usually found in the shade or in dappled sun. The genus Trillium means “three”—trilliums do most everything in threes, from the whorl of three bracts (modified leaves) below the flower, to the three-petaled and three-sepaled flowers. Take a look at this photographic overview of trilliums, or use the table below to help identify your specimen.

 

Trillium

(Trillium) · 7/14/2013 · Ball Hill Trail, Leominster State Forest, Leominster, Mass­a­chu­setts
≈ 11 × 7" (28 × 18 cm) Species not yet identified

Trillium

(Trillium) · This unusual variety has four leaves instead of three. You can also see the seeds in the fruit. · 8/16/2012 · Otter River State Forest, Nature Trail, Baldwinville, Mass­a­chu­setts
≈ 9 × 6" (23 × 15 cm) Species not yet identified

 
Trillium cuneatum

Trillium erectum

Trillium grandiflorum
Common Name

whippoorwill flower

red trillium

great white trillium
Plant Plants have one to five round stems, and are up to 15" (38 cm) high. Plants have one to two round stems, are 12-24" (30-60 cm) high, and are found on forest floors. A whorl of three leaves forms atop each stem, each leaf facing straight upward, with a single flower emerging from the center. A single stalk, 8-18" (20-45 cm) tall, topped by a whorl of three leaves and a single flower.
Flowers Flowers are green streaked with deep purple, or pure purple, turning darker with age. They are 1-2" (2.7-6 cm) around and ¼-½" (7-13 mm) long, and have a faint, usually pleasant spicy odor. Usually maroon, but may also be a brighter red, white, or greenish yellow. They have three true petals and three petal-like bracts, arranged to look like a six-petaled flower. These flowers are sometimes called stinking benjamin or stinking willie because they smell like a wet dog. The odor attracts flies that pollinate the plants. Up to 4" (10 cm) across, white, becoming tinged with pink as they age, and larger than other trilliums. They may be erect or tipped to one side, but they don’t droop. The 3 flower petals have wavy edges, and they are reflexed. Between the petals are three sepals, green, narrower than the petals, and lanceolate in shape. Flowers have six stamens, in two whorls of three, and three stigmas. Flowers are 2-3" (5-7.6 cm) above the whorl of leaves. They appear from April to May.
Leaves Each plant has a whorl of three leaves, each leaf facing straight upward, with the flower emerging from the center of the three leaves. Leaves are 2½-7" (7-18 cm) × 2½-5" (7-13 cm), green mottled with pale green, roughly oval or diamond-shaped, wider at the bottom and tapering somewhat at the top, with even edges. Oval or diamond-shaped in shape, wider at the base, tapering to pointed tips, and with even edges. Medium green, up to 6" (15 cm) long and 5" (12 cm) wide, oval or ovate in shape. Leaves have smooth edges.
Fruit Green or with purple streaks, oval, with odd angles or flattened areas, ¾" (2 cm) × ⅜-½" (1-1.5 cm). Fruits are dark maroon in color, smelling faintly of fruit, rounded to slightly pyramid-shaped, ⅜-½" (1-1.5 cm) around. Green, mealy, and moist, vaguely six-sided. They darken as they age.
Range/ Zones

USDA Zones: 4-8
Type Wild Wild Wild

 

 
Trillium luteum

Trillium sessile

Trillium undulatum
Common Name

yellow trillium

toadshade trillium

painted trillium
Plant Plants have 1-4 round flowering stems, 6-16" (14-40 cm) tall. A whorl of three leaves forms atop each stem, each leaf facing straight upward, with a single flower emerging from the center. The flower is connected directly to the leaves. 5-12" (12-30 cm) tall, a single stalk topped by three leaves, with a single, stalkless flower in the center. Plants are 4-16" (11-40 cm) high, with dark greenish or maroon stems. A whorl of three leaves forms atop each of the 1-3 stems, each leaf facing straight upward, with a single flower emerging from the center.
Flowers The flower is erect, looking a little like a candle flame, ¾-1¾" (2.2-4.7 cm) × ~⁵/₁₆" (8-9 mm), and smells like lemons. Three small specialized leaves (“bracts”) lie flat below the flower. A single flower, with three maroon or brownish petals (sometimes green or yellowish-green). Petals are up to 1¼" (3.5 cm) long and ¾" (2 cm) wide. Flowers are attached directly to the stalk (sessile), rather than elevated above it. There are three green sepals between the petals, sometimes streaked with maroon. Often the flowers remain closed, though the sepals are open. The flowers have an odor resembling that of rotting meat. (Most trilliums are odorless, with the exception of this and Trillium foetidissimum.) They appear from May to June. One flower per stem, elevated above the leaves, with three conspicuous white petals tinged with pink near the centers, and large yellow stamens. Each petal is about 1-1½" (2.5-3.8 cm) long and ½-¾" (1.3-1.9 cm) wide.
Leaves Leaves are oval in shape, 2½-7" (6.5-17 cm) × 2½-3½" (6.5-9.8 cm), wider at the base, tapering to pointed tips, and with even edges. Three bracts (modified leaves) are arranged in a whorl around the top of the stalk. Each leaf is oval to nearly circuilar, with blunt tips, and up to 4" (10 cm) long and 3" (8 cm) across. Sometimes they have a mottled appear­ance, a patchwork of varying shades of green, bluish-green, or brownish. Oval or diamond-shaped in shape, wider at the base, tapering to pointed tips, and with even edges, 4½-7" (12-18 cm) × 3-8" (8-20 cm).
Fruit Fruits are green to greenish white, occasionally with dark streaks, roughly oval, 6-angled, 1¼" (3.5 cm) × ¾" (2 cm). A whitish to dark greenish-purple, three-celled, six-sided berry. Fruits are ⅜-¾" (1-2 cm), roughly pear-shaped or shaped somewhat like a prism, and scarlet in color.
Range/ Zones

Type Wild Wild Wild

 

 
Trillium vaseyi
Common Name

wake robin
Plant Plants have one to two round stems, and are 12-26" (30-65 cm) tall. Three leaves form a whorl atop each stem.
Flowers While the flower appears above the leaves in many species of Trillium, these droop below, on a short petiole. Each flower is maroon (rarely yellow) in color, with three petals, 1-2½" (3-6.5 cm) × 1½-2" (4-6 cm). Each flower has a mild sweet odor.
Leaves Almost triangular, sometimes wider near the base than they are long, 4-8" (10-20 cm) × 2-8" (6-20 cm) in size.
Fruit Dark reddish maroon, generally oval but sometimes with flattened sides, ⅜-½" (1-1.4 cm) × ⅜-¾" (1-2 cm).
Range/ Zones

Type Wild

 

Online References:

Trillium at the U.S. Forest Service Celebrating Wildflowers site

Trillium description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 24 Dec 2020.

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Trillium

(Trillium) · This unusual variety has four leaves instead of three. You can also see the seeds in the fruit. · 8/16/2012 · Otter River State Forest, Nature Trail, Baldwinville, Mass­a­chu­setts
≈ 15 × 10" (39 × 26 cm) Species not yet identified

Trillium

(Trillium) · Red trillium · 3/29/2011 · Maine

Trillium

Hybrid trillium (Trillium × spp.) · 5/15/2010 · Garden in the Woods, Framingham, Mass­a­chu­setts
≈ 9 × 6" (21 × 15 cm)