Over the past several weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time walking in parks and crawling around on hands and knees in wildflower fields.  (Achoo!)  I don’t need to tell you fellow gardeners how beautiful the parks and woods look when the trilliums pop their lovely heads up and fill the landscape with their delicate yet exuberant colors and shapes.  I’m fortunate to have the purple trillium (Trillium erectum) and the large-flowered trillium (T. grandiflorum) growing in my garden.  Those two varieties of trillium were the only two I’d ever seen until this past week.

I got to see the prairie trillium (T. recurvatum) for the first time in my life while wandering the woods in Indiana last week.   The prairie trillium is maroon, a stalkless flower with erect petals and drooping sepals as you can see in the picture.  The plant grows 6-18” high.  Another variety of trillium new to me is the toadshade trillium (T. sessile).  This plant is similar to the prairie trillium except the sepals grow outward rather than drooping down.

Another white trillium I’d not seen before is the bent trillium (T. flexipes).  The bent trillium (sometimes called a drooping trillium) grows on a 1-1/2 to 3” flower stalk.  This particular plant reminded me of the cornette (albeit upside down) Sally Field wore when she played the flying nun on TV .

According to http://www.altnature.com/gallery/Trilliums, the prairie, toad shade, and large-flowered trilliums are edible and medicinal and have “a long history of use by Native Americans.  The young edible unfolding leaves are an excellent addition to salad tasting somewhat like sunflower seeds. The leaves can also be cooked as a pot herb. The root is used as an alternative medicine and is antiseptic, antispasmodic, diuretic, emmenagogue (to promote menstruation), and ophthalmic. The roots, fresh or dry, may be boiled in milk and used for diarrhea and dysentery. The raw root is grated and applied as a poultice to the eye in order to reduce swelling, or on aching rheumatic joints. The leaves were boiled in lard and applied to ulcers as a poultice, and to prevent gangrene. An infusion of the root is used in the treatment of cramps and a common name for the plant, ‘birthroot’, originated from its use to promote menstruation. A decoction of the root bark can be used as drops in treating earache.”  Native American folklore indicates that women of many Native American tribes used the trillium “to facilitate childbirth and to treat other female problems.”  These Native Americans considered trillium root “to be a sacred female herb and they only spoke of it to their medicine women.”

These charming perennials flower in May and June.  They’re a bit early this year since we’ve had such an unusually warm March and April.  They love the rich soil of damp and shady woodlands.  Trilliums deserve to be observed in their native habitat.  So, take yourselves to your nearest wildflower area and see what you can spot.  And while you’re out there, be sure to pull out any of that other white flowered plant that is the nemesis to wildflowers the world over.  One less stalk of garlic mustard is a move toward saving the habitat of the thrilling trilliums.