Trillium also called wakerobin, tri flower, birthroot, birthwort, and wood lily, is a genus of about forty-three species of spring-flowering perennial herbs of the family Melanthiaceae, native to North America and Asia with the greatest diversity of species found in the southern Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern United States. Unexpectedly thirty-eight species are represented in North America. Many species of Trillium are cultivated in wildflower gardens.
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Clade: Tracheophytes
- Clade: Angiosperms
- Clade: Monocots
- Order: Liliales
- Family: Melanthiaceae
- Tribe: Parideae
- Genus: Trillium
Facts about Trillium
- Morphologically, trillium plants produce no true leaves or stems above ground. They have oval bracts that resemble and function as leaves and arise from an underground rhizome.
- They are borne in whorls of three at the top of a stem or at ground level. The flower parts, including the sepals, petals, stamens, and stigmas, are also in groups of threes.
- Each solitary white, greenish white, yellow, pink, or purple flower sits directly on the bracts or is borne on a short stalk above them.
- Despite their morphological origins, the bracts have external and internal structure like a leaf, function in photosynthesis, and most authors refer to them as leaves.
- Terrific Trilliums are among the favorites on many a spring wildflower walk. Their blooms can be showy or obscure, a dazzling display of color on a hillside or a chance surprise hidden under a leaf.
- All trillium species belong to the Liliaceae (lily) family and are rhizomatous herbs with unbranched stems.
- Trilliums are generally divided into two major groups: the pedicellate and sessile trilliums.
- In the pedicellate trilliums, the flower sits upon a pedicel that extends from the whorl of bracts, either “erect” above the bracts, or “nodding” recurved under the bracts.
- In the sessile trilliums there is no pedicel and the flowers appear to arise directly from the bracts.
Some species of Trillium contain chemical compounds called sapogenins that have been used medicinally through the ages as astringents, expectorants, coagulants and uterine stimulants. This is why common names are given to some trilliums such as birthwort and Indian balm.
Some species of trillium are listed as threatened or endangered and collecting these species may be illegal as picking parts off a trillium plant can kill it even if the rhizome is left undisturbed. Laws in some jurisdictions may restrict the commercial exploitation of trilliums and prohibit collection. In the US states of Michigan and Minnesota it is illegal to pick trilliums. In New York it is illegal to pick the red trillium. High white-tailed deer population density has been shown to decrease or eliminate trillium in an area, particularly white trillium. Some species are harvested from the wild to an unsustainable degree. This is particularly dire in the case of T. govanianum, whose high selling price as a folk medicine has motivated harvesters to destroy swathes of ecologically sensitive Himalayan forests, causing mudslides. Some trilliums that were formerly more common have become rare because of changes in their environment. These changes are often brought on directly or indirectly by people’s patterns of settlement, transportation, recreation, and use of natural resources.