While strolling through our Beverly Shores woods during April and May, trillium are among the earliest flowers you will see. These graceful plants of the forest floor have many common names, such as “birthroot” and “wake-robin,” denoting their position as a harbinger of spring. Trillium can be recognized easily by their perfect symmetry: three leaf-like bracts, three sepals, and three petals, and hence another common name, the “trinity flower.”
Over fifty species of trillium have been identified in North America and seven of these find a home in Indiana. The snow trillium (T. nivale) is one of the first to emerge, and is absolutely hardy as it frequently gets covered with snow. Another early bloomer is prairie trillium (T. recurvatum), which can grow to 12 to 18 inches, has mottled leaves, and a maroon bloom. While common in Indiana, several populations are protected in Michigan, including a population in Warren Woods State Park. The prairie trillium is frequently found in Beverly Shores along with the large white trillium (T. grandiflorum). The large white variety bloom in late April to mid-May; its flower starts out white and fades to pink with age.
Trillium grow from a rhizome. Their flowers are insect polinated. They produce a capsule-like berry by mid-summer. Disturbing the leaves of a trillium, or picking the flower, is injurious to the plant, even if the rhizome is not touched. And in protected areas where a species is considered threatened or endangered, it is illegal to pick them.
Trillium occupy the same ecological niche as garlic mustard. Unfortunately, while white-tailed deer avoid garlic mustard, they adore trillium. Beverly Shores was once carpeted in spirn by trillium flowers, but heavy deer browsing has made these lovely plants a rarity and has opened the way for replacement by garlic mustard.
Trillium can be added to one’s wild flower landscapes or gardens. White trillium prefers fertile, well-drained soil and grows best in areas with morning sun and afternoon shade. Trillium can be bought, but it is imperative that they be obtained legally through a nursery, and not taken from the woods.