Spring Wildflowers – The Trilliums

In late April and early May I look for trilliums (or hope for a call from a friend to tell me they’ve started to bloom). It’s a rite of spring. They’re among the first and most visible of the woodland wildflowers to bloom and are easily identified by their large three-leaf and three-petal form. The Trillium bloom signals the bloom of bellwort, Trout Lily, violets, Marsh Marigold, Bloodroot and other spring wild flowers as well.

I know of three species of trillium in the area: White (Large-flowered), Red (Wake-robin, Birthroot or Purple Trillium) and Painted Trillium. White Trillium is the largest and most abundant, sometimes forming spectacular carpets across the forest floor. I may find a handful of Red Trillium in a carpet of thousands of White Trillium, something I can’t explain.  Both occur on rich woodland sites that are usually dominated by Sugar Maple and a variety of hardwood associates.


Deer and livestock can devastate wild flower populations, and the trilliums are no exception. 25 years after cattle grazing was discontinued on my property, I discovered my first Red Trillium, but the blossoms were soon browsed by deer.  I was determined to win the battle and protected the remaining plant with a small garden fence. It is now thriving and several plants are currently in bloom. This experience explains, in part, why I often find an abundance of wildflowers on rugged, steep hillsides near roads – places where deer pressure is low and livestock are absent.

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)




Red (Wake-robin, Birthroot, Purple) Trillium (Trillium erectum)





White (Large-flowered) Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)







A woodland carpet of White Trillium; Quinn’s Woods

6 thoughts on “Spring Wildflowers – The Trilliums

  1. My grandfather would take me mushroom hunting when I was a young child and teach me the names of the Illinois wildflowers while we were in the woods. Seeing these Trillium photos brought back lovely memories.

  2. Beautiful pictures. My mother used to take my brother and I walking in the woods (in Ontario, Canada) when we were children. I used to pick as many trilliums as I could carry and try to hide them when we walked home. Trilliums are the Provincial Flower Emblem of Ontario and it was against the law to pick them!!

    • Thanks for the compliment. I enjoyed your comments too. I didn’t know about the importance of trillium in Ontario. My only experience in Canada was Algonquin Park many many years ago. I recall laying down in a mosquito-invested wetland trying to photograph bull Moose foraging in a pond. It was late June and they were sporting new antlers. Beautiful. As far as your personal experience, I definitely think the statute of limitations should apply. 🙂

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