Virtual Nature Trail

Scientific name: Trillium grandiflorum
Common name: 
Large flowered trillium

(Information for this species page was gathered in part  by Sherri Fawcett for Biology 220W (Spring 2004) at Penn State New Kensington).

The large flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) is the most common of the 39 described trillium species. The "tri-" prefix of the scientific and common name refers to the triplet pattern of both the leaves and flower petals of this plant. The "large flower" or "grandiflorum" refers to the substantial size of the species' white to pink flower petals (which are 1.5 to 2.0 inches long) relative to the only somewhat larger pointed, broadly diamond-shaped leaves (which are 3 to 6 inches long). Trilliums are monocot plants like grasses even though they have a very non-monocot pattern of leaf venation.

 Trillium grandiflorum blooms in the early spring (April though June) depending on local site conditions. On our Nature Trail, the T. grandiflorum which is most abundant down-slope along the Wildflower Trail, blooms in mid to late April. Plants are typically found in large, colonial masses in rich, relative neutral pH soils in the filtered light (partial shade) conditions of the forest floor under an established deciduous forest canopy. Trillium grandiflorum is a perennial wildflower that grows from an extensive and very long lived (up to 30 years!) rhizome. The above-ground plant stands 10 to 18 inches tall and has a whorl of three leaves above which are the similar whorl of three white to pink-colored petals. It produces a single, red berry in the fall that is 0.75 to 1.0 inches in diameter. These berries and their encased seeds are dispersed through the forest habitat primarily by ants.

Trillium grandiflorum is principally found east of the Mississippi River and from Ontario and Quebec south to Georgia. It range does extend, though, into both Arkansas and Minnesota.

The dispersed seeds of T. grandiflorum germinate in their first spring. During this first growth season the seedling produces roots but no leaves. The single cotyledon (the embryonic leaf) does not form until the second season of growth, and the true leaves (initially a single, true leaf) do not form until the third season. During these three years of growth the root rhizome is extensively growing and maturing. The familiar three leaf pattern of this plant is not observed until the rhizome has sufficiently established itself so as to be able to sustain the above ground biomass and potential energy demands of flowering and seed production. Older rhizomes tend to produce larger above ground plants and more flowers than younger, less developed rhizome systems.

Trillium grandiflorum is eaten by a variety of forest herbivores including the white tailed deer. Deer grazing, in fact, selects against taller T. grandiflorum individuals and thus results in the survival of small, often non-flowering T. grandifloras in areas subjected to heavy rates of deer browsing. Trillium grandiflorum is also very sensitive to acidic pH's. In areas affected by acid rain, the ability of this species to both  germinate and  pollinate is greatly reduced. Soil pH's below 3.6 are poorly tolerated by this species.

Native Americans used the leaves and roots of trillium for both food and for their medicinal properties. Asthma, hematuria, diarrhea, ulcersand insect stings are a fw of the conditions that were treated with whole preparations, tonics, and extracts of this plant.

The Pennsylvania State University 2002 
This page was last updated on January 29, 2005  

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