Western Trillium

Although many of the spring wildflowers from my youth in Western Pennsylvania do not grow on the West Coast, one of my favorite childhood flowers, the trillium, does.

The western trillium (Trillium ovatum) is a native perennial that inhabits moist, shady forests. (The eastern trilliums are different species but look the same.) A member of the lily family, the trillium has three oval petals surrounded by three lance-shaped green sepals at the end of a long pedicle. The white petals fade to a pink or purple color as they age. Three sharply pointed green leaves surround the erect stem, which is bare below the trio of leaves. Trilliums are striking in their simplicity!

The seeds are contained in a greenish, berry-like capsule. Each seed has a tiny oil-rich appendage that ants find attractive. The ants take the trillium seeds to their nests where they eat the appendages then discard the remaining seeds. What a clever adaptation for seed dispersal! It takes seven years for a plant to flower from seed. Trilliums also spread by rhizomes.

Trillium leaves are edible and can be cooked as a potherb. I have never eaten trillium greens because they are a scarce wildflower and take so long to grow to the flowering stage. For the same reason, although trillium blossoms make wonderful, long-lasting bouquets, they should not be picked for their flowers. Once a trillium and its three leaves are picked the plant’s photosynthetic apparatus is gone and the plant cannot survive. Another reason to not pick trilliums!

Trilliums are composed of threes – sepals, petals, leaves. The genus name and the common name, trillium, comes from the Latin meaning “in threes”. Trilliums are also known as wakerobins. The flowers bloom about the time robins appear or “wake up”  in many areas, giving rise to that common name.

These western trilliums were photographed on BLM lands near Howard Prairie Reservoir in Southern Oregon.

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7 Responses to Western Trillium

  1. Pingback: Trillium Elaiosome | The Nature Niche

  2. Lin says:

    I have liked trillium ever since I discovered them…wondered why the pink/purple ones were difficult to find…now I know.

  3. usermattw says:

    If these are the same flowers I’m thinking of, I think I once picked a bunch of these on a Scout campout, not knowing they were so rare that there was a big fine for picking them. Fortunately, I can confess this now since we’re beyond the statute of limitations. 🙂

  4. Karen Benjamin says:

    I transplanted a start of Trillium to our lot in Minnesota several years ago. It comes up every year and blooms, however it doesn’t seem to spread very quickly. Your article was very helpful. I have learned so much from your daily blogs and I thank you.

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