The Forest’s Trillium Surprise
by William McReynolds | Wilson’s Snipe photo by Ed Boos
Trillium is an early bloomer from the Lily Family (Liliaceae) that springs forth from the forest floor and loves to live in the shade. The timing works well in wooded areas because it has enough sun to grow before the trees form their dense canopy.
Keep an eye out for these beauties as you tromp through the woods and try not to step on them. Most grow to about 12 to 14 inches tall, but they’re fairly tender and need to be protected. There are two kinds of Trillium, the pedicellate and the sessile. Pedicel means Little Foot, and those types of Trillium have a single flower on top of its stem, making it appear the flowers are nodding. The other type, the sessile, means the flower is resting, or sitting on top of the plant and doesn’t appear to have a stem at all. It’s no wonder that some of these types of trillium are called Toadstool Plants, because it sort of looks like a frog on a lily pad.
Trilliums are a horizontal rhizome plant that has a vast underground network. The part of the plant we refer to as the stem is actually an escapee that reaches upward and pushes the limits until it breaks through the earth, continuing to climb until its three leaves form at the top. Remember those pedicellate types? They’re the undercover agents, and the sessile plants are the lookouts, and they’re all looking out for one another and places their family can sprout.
Trillium catesbaei is a North Carolina native, affectionately called Catesby’s and is an excellent example of a pedicellate. Its beautiful delicate flower ranges from a deep pink to an almost-white dusty pink color. Another is the deep crimson color of the Vaseyi.
Famed University of Georgia horticulture professor Allan Armitage says, “If you can’t find Trillium in the nursery, take a walk in the woods, and enjoy nature’s treasures. Take a photo, not a plant.”
There are usually a few Trillium at the Mountain Garden Club’s plant sale. The annual sale is always held the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. If you’re lucky enough to have part of this native underground network, you’re lucky enough.