Trillium was valued by the Native Americans for its medicinal
properties. The root was used as an astringent and antiseptic,
and the leaves boiled for use as a poultice. Trillium was so
widely used in childbirth that one of the plant’s early names
Trilliums are chiefly pollinated by bees and flies. The seeds
are spread primarily by ants, which are attracted by a sweet
coating on the seeds. Trilliums are extremely slow to reach
maturity. When grown from seed, they can take two years to
germinate, and another three to four years to bloom. Once
established, however, trillium can live for up to thirty years.
Certain species of trillium are on Pennsylvania’s list of
threatened plants, making it illegal to pick or disturb them.
The flowers are a favorite treat of deer, and rising deer
populations in the trillium’s growth area have contributed
greatly to its decline. Other factors include competition from
invasive non-native species, and loss of habitat to
development. Regardless of whether a particular species is on
the list of threatened plants, trilliums are always best enjoyed
in the wild, and should never be picked or tampered with. If
you would like to plant trillium in your home garden, be sure to
obtain plants from a reputable nursery where they have been
grown from seed or propagated from seed grown plants.
Where to plant trillium
Plant in a shady location. Trillium enjoys the patchy sunlight
of bare leafed trees in spring, but it will not survive the
onslaught of full summer sun. Try to mimic a woodland habitat
by selecting a cool, moist, well drained area, and amending the
soil with leaf compost. Trillium begins to grow as early as
February or March, and generally blooms around Easter. After
the bloom fades, the foliage will persist until midsummer.
The great white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) is the
most common trillium variety in western Pennsylvania. It has
showy two to four inch flowers, which bloom in gleaming white
and eventually fade to pink. It will eventually set fruit in
the form of a small red berry. Other trillium to look for are
the snow trillium (Trillium nivale), a smaller variety
which blooms in March through May in a forest habitat. Stouter
in appearance than its tall slender cousins, its creamy white
flowers bloom on reddish two to six inch stems.
True to its
name, this trillium can bloom when snow is on the ground. Blood
red Trillium erectum is lovely to behold, but has a
pungent odor which earned it the common names of ill-scented
wake-robin and stinking Benjamin. Nodding trillium (Trillium
cernuum) has graceful downcast flowers, which generally
bloom white but may be pink or maroon. Less common are
toadshade, (Trillium sessile) which has narrow maroon or
greenish yellow flowers above mottled leaves, and the painted
trillium (Trillium undulatum)whose wavy edged petals are
splashed with crimson markings. Unlike most other trilliums,
the painted trillium prefers a boggy acidic soil.
enjoy trillium in the Pittsburgh area, visit Fox Chapel’s
Trillium Trail. The trail meanders on a hillside above Squaw
Run Road, and a modest amount of parking is available at each of
two trailheads. In late April to early May the ground is
blanketed by Trillium grandiflorum. This spectacular
display is made possible by the unobtrusive deer fence that was
installed in 1999 and which encloses a total of 23 acres
surrounding the entire trail.
Prior to the installation of the
fence, the trail was devastated by Fox Chapels’s burgeoning deer
population. Given the slow growth cycle of the trillium, it
is now returning to its former splendor, when the trillium were
so dense that the hillside appeared to be covered in snow. The
best time to visit the trail this year is as soon as possible.
Not only is the trillium blooming ahead of schedule due to our
balmy spring, but Squaw Run Road is scheduled for resurfacing in
May, which could cause some inconvenience to trillium seekers.
Don't plant purple loosestrife