Trillium

PLANT OF THE WEEK –  Trillium

Logo smallPlant of the Week” is part of a series of fact sheets I did for a horticulture class I took at Oregon State University on herbaceous perennials.  I thought others might also be interested and we could have a discussion on our experiences with some of these plants. I’ve also started adding some of my favorite plants.

PLANT: Trillium, genus of perennial flowering plants native to temperate regions of North America and Asia.  Trillium is found sometimes in the wild in shaded areas of the Pacific Northwest (PNW).  If left alone they will form small groves under trees.
H x W: Varies, from 8” to 20” tall
CULTURE
There are about 45 species but similarities make identification difficult. There are two subgenera. In T. subg. Trillium the flowers are mostly born on a short stalk (pedicellate) whereas in T. subg. Phyllantherum the flowers are born directly on the bracts (sessile). There are about an equal number of species in each subgenera. USDA zone 4 to 9.

SITING AND USES IN THE LANDSCAPE
They are good for the woodland garden needing shade to part-sun. Some species of trillium are listed as threatened or endangered and collecting these species may be illegal.

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Trillium erectum, Red trillium Wikipedia

FLOWERS
The inflorescence is a single flower blooming in April to May in the PCNW depending on location and species. The flower has three green or reddish sepals and usually three petals in shades of red, purple, pink, white, yellow, or green. There are six stamens at the center. There are three stigmas that are borne on a very short style, if any. The fruit is fleshy and capsule-like or berrylike. The seeds have large oily elaiosomes (fleshy structure attached to the seeds).

MAINTENANCE AND LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT
Rhizomes should be planted 4 inches deep in rich organic moist soil which is neutral to slightly acidic. Annual feeding of rich organic material is recommended. Trillium are readily propagated by division, but there is controversy on when to divide. Picking parts off of a trillium plant can kill it even if the rhizome is left undisturbed. But others recommend dividing while the plant is still leafed out to help you identify the rhizomes. The recommendation not move until dormant is confirmed by Armitage in the course book. However, Margaret Roach and Ken Druse tell stories of success in transplanting trillium while in bloom. I have a large clump of I believe wild Trillium ovatum and will experiment this spring.

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Trillium grandiflorum, wikipedia

Plants can be grown from seed, but it can take up to two years for fresh seed to germinate and another five to seven years for plants to bloom. Growing plants from cuttings has limited success. See Fine Gardening article on propagation. Other than being browsed by deer, trilliums suffer from no serious pest or disease problems.

ETHNOBOTANICAL USES
Several species contain sapogenins. They have been used traditionally as uterine stimulants, the inspiration for the common name birthwort. In a 1918 publication, Joseph E. Meyer called it “beth root”, probably a corruption of “birthroot”. He claimed that an astringent tonic derived from the root was useful in controlling bleeding and diarrhea

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