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Portland Nursery

NATIVE TRILLIUM

It is likely that Trillium ovatum, otherwise known as Wake Robin, is perhaps the most familiar floral sight in our woods and forests. As its common name suggests, it is one of the earliest blooming of our native flowers, a herald of spring. There are a few species of trillium native to our area, part of a group of hundreds of species worldwide.

Whatever the color or size, they are recognizable by the collar of whorled leaves held above a bare stem, holding a single flower. Spreading by rhizomes, trilliums will, if left undisturbed, form a colony and carpet the woodland floor in early spring.

They can also be propagated by seed, a much slower process. In nature a sort of back-up system is in place with the cooperation of mice and ants, to help spread the seeds; ants especially are attracted by a protein-rich fleshy attachment to the seed called an elaiosome. They carry the seeds back to their nest, consume the desired part and then discard the seed itself, which in turn eventually germinates having been conveniently “planted” in the ground in an organically rich environment. Click photos to enlarge.

Trillium ovatumTrillium ovatum This is the flower that comes to mind when one hears the name “Trillium.” Mistakenly thought by many to be Oregon’s state flower by virtue of its abundance, its pure, bright white flower held above the triumvirate of bright green leaves is a welcome sight in the woods as well as the woodland garden.

Shade to partial shade, organically rich and well-drained soil; regular water in the spring (which usually happens automatically in the Pacific NW), little or no water in the summer when the plant has died back and gone dormant for the season. The white flower gradually turns to purple as it ages.

Trillium chloropetalumTrillium chloropetalum  The leaves are slightly mottled with reddish-brown.  The flower is held more stiffly erect above the leaves and can range in color from red through greenish yellow to white. Leaves and flowers are both larger than T. ovatum, hence the common name Giant Trillium.
Trillium kurabayashiiTrillium kurabayashii Large Purple Wake Robin is a rare one.  Found only in isolated colonies in Northern California and into the farthest SW corner of Oregon, the large leaves are distinctly mottled with dark green and are large and slightly ruffled when mature. The flower parts are held upright, perpendicular to the leaves, and generally of a deep, rich reddish purple in color. (photo credit to Paul Schlicter)

Needing perhaps a little more sheltered area than T. ovatum, it is still quite garden-worthy. Propagated by seed by growers allowed to sustainably collect the seed from the wild, the care and length of time it takes to grow these plants to retail ready size and condition in part explains their price.

Peggy Acott

Trillium ovatum

Trillium ovatum
Wake Robin

FACTS: TRILLIUM

Family: Liliaceae

Genus: Trillium

Common: Wake Robin

Origin: Moist wooded areas throughout the Pacific Northwest, low to mid-elevations

Characteristics: Leaves are triangular to oval shaped; usually three, held in a whorl at the top of a 10 to 12” stem. A singular flower rests on or shortly above the whorl of leaves.

Colors range from white to greenish yellow to purple, depending on species. Sometimes forming a curved to flat, open triangle of three petals, or standing upright from the surface of the leaves, again depending on the species.

Culture: Plant in full to partial shade, in soil rich with organic matter and good drainage. Wants regular water during the growing season, little or none in summer when plant goes dormant.

Diseases/Pests: Snails and slugs can be a problem. In poorly drained soil rhizomes can rot and plants can suffer from fungal diseases.