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)