Last weekend I spent roaming through one of my favorite forests… I saw delicate starlike painted trillium with deep rose centers and dark crimson stems in the lowlands and highlands – it didn’t seem to matter (T. undulate). I have never seen a miniscule two-inch painted trillium until last Sunday. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I visit these areas every spring but this year I was stunned by the masses of flowers I encountered.

The dark purple trilliums (T. erectum) are usually the first to appear at least here at home but last weekend I found one near a seep that was two and a half feet high in deep forest. The biggest I have ever seen. Curiously these purple trilliums attract pollinators in an unusual way.

The do not produce nectar like the others I mention but rely on a rotten meat smell to attract pollinators who happened to be flies! I’ve seen bumblebees pollinating Grandifloras and the Painted trilliums are also pollinated by wild bees and other insects.

Here at home, I have three kinds of trillium two of which appeared by themselves. Grandiflora, the beautiful large white trillium I discovered about 30 years ago in an old, abandoned farmhouse in Bryant Pond. There was a carpet of hundreds – maybe thousands – and so I thought it safe to take one plant.

When it took so happily to its new home on my property, I went back two years later to dig two more. Too late. I was absolutely horrified to discover the whole area had been bulldozed that spring. Shades of things to come…


The Great White trilliums spread very slowly underground by rootstocks as do other trilliums. The seed produced (and all trilliums produce only one seed) will not bloom for five to 10 years. From my field experience I have learned that all trilliums require some filtered morning or afternoon sun.

Purple trilliums gravitate to lowlands. One fascinating aspect of this burgundy flower is that the single seed produced will be distributed by ants (or even mice). When the seed becomes sticky and mushy after falling to earth, the ants have a feast, depositing the waste in their garbage bins underground where the seed germinates in the richest soil!

Ants don’t travel far, and this is probably one of the reasons we often find one species clustered together in somewhat haphazard drifts. These days except for my property I find all trilliums in rich deciduous and mixed protected forests – forests that have not been disturbed since the logging machine took over about 40 years ago, putting hard working loggers who cared about their trees out of business.

What I love the most about these plants is that every part comes in threes. Three leaves, three petals, three sepals. With the flower standing up at the center of a whirl of leaves.

Neolithic peoples (8000 BCE) considered three lobed flowers to signify a goddess in her flowery aspect because every part of the flower repeats the number three – a sacred number for the ancient goddess. I lean into this myth because trilliums are one of the earliest spring woodland flowers. And if there was ever a time to celebrate the Great Mother in her blossoming stage it is in the spring…

According to the U.S. Forest Service from a morphological standpoint, trillium plants produce no true leaves or stems above ground. The stem is just an extension of the horizonal rhizome that produce tiny scale-like leaves. The above – ground plant is technically a flowering scape, and the leaf-like structures are bracts that underly the flower. All photosynthesize behaving as leaves.

Although trilliums are blooming earlier in the season it is still possible to enter protected forests where the soil has not been disturbed to find these glorious ephemerals throughout this month and early into June…

Because trilliums take so long to bloom, if you pick even one flower you are destroying the possibility of a seed finding home, so please enjoy but do not pick the trillium.

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