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Environmental Studies

Trillium grandiflorum (White trillium) Melanthiaceae

Trillium is a genus of about 40–50 species of spring ephemeral perennials, native to temperate region of North America and Asia. Leaves, petals and sepals of all trilliums come in groups of three. Commonly called white trillium, declined trillium, or white wake-robin, this species has a scientific name of Trillium grandiflorum


Physical characteristics

Leaf: Three leaves come out of a same spot. The three leaves are evenly-spaced, sessile, heart-shaped, and green (up to 9” across). The major veins of Liliaceae plant are parallel, but Trillium grandiflorum is an exception with branching side veins.

Flower | Seeds: The flower (2.5” across) has three large white petals with three narrow green sepals and floats on a short stalk above the center of the three-leaf whorl. The flower also has 6 yellow stamens.

Trunk | Bark: Stalk usually leans an angle of 90 degree because of turgor pressure, which is pressure within a cell resulting from the uptake of water. The branchless, naked stem of Trillium grandiflorum can grow up to 2’ high.

Life span: Trillium grandiflorum is a spring ephemeral species, which only lives in a short time in spring season. The blooming period occurs from mid to late spring (April to May).

Ecological characteristics

Trillium grandiflorum usually lives in rich deciduous woodlands, wooded slopes, large shady ravines, and rocky bluffs. This is one of the white-flowered trilliums in Illinois. The preference is dappled sunlight during the spring, followed by light to medium shade. The soil should be evenly moist, fertile, and loamy, with a layer of decaying leaves on its surface to protect the plant from drying out. Trilliums are slow to develop from seed and take many years to reach maturity. Most growth and development occurs during the spring before the canopy trees fully leaf out.

Importance to the ecosystem

Trillium grandiflorum is protected by law in Ontario, because of its very small Canadian population. Besides, picking a trillium seriously injures the plant by preventing the leaf-like bracts from producing food for the next year. A plant takes many years to recover. It is a popular belief in many jurisdictions that picking trillium is illegal. Laws in some jurisdictions may restrict the commercial exploitation of trilliums and prohibit collection without the land owners permission.

Relationship with other species

Non-human: The seeds can be distributed by ants because of their food appendages. 

Humans: Great flower for garden use. A classic spring-blooming, woodland wildflower. Excellent when massed in a shaded woodland garden, naturalized area or wildflower garden. Mixes well with other spring wildflowers and ferns.

Pests: Few insects visit the flowers of trilliums, even though their flowers are rather showy. Records for this particular species have not been found.

Other interesting facts

  • In a 1918 publication, Joseph E. Meyer claimed that an astringent tonic derived from the root of Trillium was useful in controlling bleeding and diarrhea.

Photo by Julia Giza






Page drafted by Yongfan Wu