All About Trillium

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There is nothing more spectacular in the woodland garden than when the trilliums are in full bloom. The flowers dance in the breeze, creating a carpet of white, red, or yellow flowers. It's truly a sign of spring.

Trilliums are ingrained in our culture. They grace U.S. postage stamps, are the state flower in many states and a Canadian Province, and are used as emblems on everything from restaurants to resorts. The characteristic three leaves and three-petaled flowers are immediately recognizable by many gardeners.

Trillium are native to Asia and North America. You'll find them in the wild in our Eastern forests, Rocky Mountains and West Coast. There are more than 40 species of native trillium. Look for species adapted to where you live. While it's easiest to grow those native to your region of the country, you can also try other species from different areas as long as you adjust the soil conditions accordingly.

All About Trillium: Trillium Facts

White trillium over woodland floorWhite trillium over woodland floor
<a href="/perennials/woodland-wildflowers/white-trillium">White Trillium</a> is a classic woodland perennial that is often spotted during forest hikes.

The most common trillium is the Great White (Trillium grandiflorum). It's hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7, stands 12- to 18-inches tall and produces 2-inch diameter white blossoms. Often the white flowers fade to a light pink as they age. There is a West coast version of this trillium species (T. ovatum) as well. While the eastern Great White trillium thrives among deciduous trees. The West coast version is often found among the redwoods.

The bent trillium (T. flexipes) has a similar hardiness to the great white trillium. The flower bends downward and also turns a maroon color. The prairie trillium (T. recurvatum) features red flowers on 12- to 18-inch tall plants with mottled dark green leaves. It's hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8. The Yellow Trillium (T. luteum), features yellow flowers on stalkless plants that stand a stocky 1 foot tall. The flowers seem to emerge from the leaves themselves. The blossoms have a slight lemon fragrance while the leaves are mottled. It's as hardy as the prairie trillium.

Painted Trillium in bloomPainted Trillium in bloom
<a href="/perennials/trillium/trillium-painted">Painted Trillium</a>
Rose trillium in bloomRose trillium in bloom
<a href="/perennials/woodland-wildflowers/rose-trillium">Rose Trillium</a>

The Painted Trillium (T. undulatum) features white flowers with a red throat. Its hardiness is the same as the Great White trillium and stands 12 inches tall. Stinking Benjamin (T. erectum) is an unfortunate common name for this beautiful red trillium species. It only stinks if you stick your nose right into the flower. The plant is hardy to USDA zones 4 to 7. The red to purple colored flowers form on 12- to 18-inch tall stalks. For something unusual, try the propeller toad trillium (T. stamineum). This Southern favorite features chocolate colored flowers that form like propellers on stocky one foot tall plants. It's hardy in USDA zone 5 to 8.

Trillium grow best in their native woodland habitat. They need dappled light to part shade from deciduous trees for good growth. They do most of their flowering and growing before the tree canopy fills out. The soil should be high in organic matter from decaying leaves or compost, moist and well drained. The best way to know where a good place in your forest to plant trillium is to look to see where the native species is growing. Plant rhizomes scattered randomly throughout the forest floor. They will eventually spread forming the carpet of color.

Select forest areas where trilliums won't have much competition from other woodland plants. Trilliums don't compete well with other plants and can get overrun if in the wrong location.

  1. White Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum, Wake-Robin

    White Trillium opens exquisite white blooms up to 4 inches across in mid-spring. Flowers fade to a pretty pale pink. This woodland wildflower requires patience but is well worth th...

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    White Trillium White Wake Robin, Wood Lily Trillium grandiflorum
    As low as $17.98 Sale $8.99
    Per Bag of 3
    White Trillium opens exquisite white blooms up to 4 inches across in mid-spring. Flowers fade to a pretty pale pink. This woodland wildflower requires patience but is well worth the wait. Seeds produced by the plants and underground roots and will spread slowly into drifts of trillium that look like a white blanket covering the ground. (Trillium grandiflorum)
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  2. Red Trillium, Trillium erectum, Wake-Robin

    Native Red Trillium is a beloved woodland wildflower with stunning, three-petaled burgundy flowers that float above a whorl of bright green leaves. Also known as Purple Trillium and ...

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    Red Trillium Wake Robin, Stinking Benjamin, Purple Trillium Trillium erectum
    $17.98 Sale $8.99
    Per Bag of 3
    Native Red Trillium is a beloved woodland wildflower with stunning, three-petaled burgundy flowers that float above a whorl of bright green leaves. Also known as Purple Trillium and Wake Robin, the flowers are some of the first to appear in spring and last for just under one month before forming berries that wildlife snack on. Prefers moist shade and rich soil and will naturalize over time. (Trillium erectum)
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  3. Painted Trillium, Trillium undulatum, Wake-Robin

    Painted Trillium is an enchanting woodland wildflower, with delicate white petals and a magenta-red center burst. Native to the northern woods, each plant produces a single bloom tha...

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    Painted Trillium Wake Robin, Painted Lady Trillium undulatum
    $17.98 Sale $8.99
    Per Bag of 3
    Painted Trillium is an enchanting woodland wildflower, with delicate white petals and a magenta-red center burst. Native to the northern woods, each plant produces a single bloom that sits atop three whorled leaves. Painted Trillium prefers acid soils but can adapt itself to sweeter, more alkaline soils as long as it is given a good amount of shade and moisture. (Trillium undulatum)
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  4. Yellow Trillium, Trillium luteum, Wake Robin

    Yellow Trillium has stunning, rich green leaves spotted with silver. Its bright yellow blooms appear in the center of each leaf, with the petals rising upward. (Trillium luteum)...

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    Yellow Trillium Yellow Wake Robin Trillium luteum
    $17.98 Sale $8.99
    Per Bag of 3
    Yellow Trillium has stunning, rich green leaves spotted with silver. Its bright yellow blooms appear in the center of each leaf, with the petals rising upward. (Trillium luteum)
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  5. Sweet Betsy Trillium, Toadshade Trillium, Trillium cuneatum

    Sweet Betsy Trillium, aka Toadshade, is a perennial native wildflower that blooms during the spring. A small deep burgundy flower blooms from the center of the three main leaves. Lea...

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    Sweet Betsy Trillium Toadshade Trillium, Wood Lily, Sweet Betsy Trillium cuneatum
    $17.98 Sale $8.99
    Per Bag of 3
    Sweet Betsy Trillium, aka Toadshade, is a perennial native wildflower that blooms during the spring. A small deep burgundy flower blooms from the center of the three main leaves. Leaf patterns vary, but include shades of forest green, light green, and silver that together resemble the coloring of a toad’s skin—hence the common name. A beautiful addition to woodland or shade gardens in zones 5-8. (Trillium cuneatum)
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All About Trillium: Planting Tips

Pollinator visiting White TrilliumPollinator visiting White Trillium
<a href="perennials/trillium/white-trillium">White Trillium</a> attracts all sorts of pollinators, and blooms with lush white petals.

In the shade garden, plant them in compost amended soil in groups. Again, don't plant them near other perennials that might overtake them in time. Some good companions in the flower garden include any of the other spring ephemeral flowers such as trout lilies, foam flowers, woodland phlox,solomon's seal andcolumbine They also look beautiful planted near narcissus, Siberian squill and Species Tulips.

Overwintered primulas, pansies and violas often will be in full bloom when trilliums are flowering and these shade lovers compliment the trillium flowers well.

Some shade perennials have colorful or interesting foliage that contrasts nicely with trillium. Look for red-foliaged epimediums, Japanese painted fern, and fern-leaf bleeding hearts. You can also plant trilliums in among evergreen ground covers, such as vinca and ivy. The colorful flowers will bloom above the ground cover foliage in spring.

Trillium spreads by clumping and self-sowing. However, it's not easy to germinate trillium seed. It's best to purchase nursery propagated and grown plants. Seed grown plants can take up to 10 years to bloom.

Small trillium plants bought online or at the local garden center should bloom in a few years. As clumps spread and more flowers are produced, it might be tempting to use the trillium flowers as a cut flower indoors.

While this won't kill the plant, it will reduce flowering in subsequent years because you're most likely removing the leaves as well. The leaves only have a few weeks to store energy in the roots for next year's bloom cycle.

Since trillium plants go dormant and disappear by midsummer, mark where you'll want to plant more trillium in fall or early spring in the forest or your shade garden. The last thing you want to do is dig up established clumps because you didn't know they were there.


About the Author: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden speaker, author, consultant, radio and TV show host. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. Visit his website, GardeningwithCharlie.com for how-to gardening information, and for more about Charlie.

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