The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum [Michaux] Salisbury) is Ohio’s state wildflower. However, there are other Trillium species that are also native to both Ohio and to its adjacent states. One of them is the Red Trillium (Trillium erectum L.).
Red Trilliums are members of the Order Liliales and of the Family Liliaceae, Melanthiaceae, or Trilliaceae. Different references list different classifications.
The generic name, Trillium, is Latin for “Three Lily”. Tres or tri is “three”, referring to most parts of the plant being in 3’s, and lilium is “lily”. The specific epithet, erectum, is Latin for “erect”, referring to its usually erect flower. Previous scientific synonyms for this plant were Trillium atropurpureum Curtis ex Beak, Trillium foetidum Salisbury, Trillium nutans Rafinesque, Trillium purpureum Kin, and Trillium rhomboideum Michaux.
At different times and places, other common names for this plant are American True Love, Bath Flower, Benjamin, Bethroot, Bethwort, Bettroot, Birthroot, Birthwort, Brown Beth, Bumblebee Root, Cough Root, Daffy-down Dilly, Deathroot, Dishcloth, Dogflower, Ground Lily, Herb Paris, Herb Trinity, Herb True Love, Ill-scented Trillium, Ill-scented Wake Robin, Indian Balm, Indian Shamrock, Lamb’s Quarters, Milk Ipecac, Mountain Lettuce, Much Hunger, Nosebleed, Nosebleed Trillium, One Berry, Orange Blossom, Paris, Purple Trillium, Rattlesnake Plant, Red Benjamin, Red Benjamin, Red Death, Rule-of-Three, Shamrock, Snakebite Plant, Squaw Flower, Squaw Root, Stinking Benjamin, Stinking Dishcloth, Stinking Willie, Three-leaved Nightshade, Trinity Lily, True Love, Wake Robin, Wild Peony, Wild Piny, and Wood Lily. Some of these other names also apply to other Trillium species.
DESCRIPTION OF THE RED TRILLIUM
Height: Its height is 6-24 inches. They may be taller in the South.
Stem: Its stem is erect, stout or slender, smooth, unbranched, and green. There may be more than 1 stem per plant.
Leaves: Its leaves are simple and are whorled with 3 leaves. These leaves are actually leaf-like bracts. Each leaf is about 3¼-8 inches long and wide, green, ribbed, sessile, and broadly rounded to triangular. It has parallel primary veins, netted secondary veins, a tapered base, and an entire margin. The 3 leaves nearly touch each other. White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman) often eat these leaves.
Flowers: Its flowers are solitary, terminal, erect or nodding, radially symmetrical, and about 1-3 inches wide.
It is located upon stalks above the leaves. This stalk is about 1-4 inches long and is slightly twisted to1 side.
Each flower is commonly pink, dark red, dull red, reddish brown, dark purple, or maroon. Some of its more rare flowers are yellow, green, or white. Each flower has 3 triangular, narrow, lanceolate, or ovate petals; 3 triangular, narrow, lanceolate, or acuminate green sepals, which may have some maroon streaks; a 3-angled pistil with 3-celled, ovate or spherical ovaries, 3 curved and spreading styles, and a short 3-lobed stigma; and has 6 long, dark maroon, gray maroon, purplish, or yellowish stamens. Its pollen is light gray to golden yellow. The petals are about ½-1½ inch long and spread widely from its base. The sepals are nearly as long as the petals. Depending upon the latitude, flowering season is March to June.
Except for the rare white flowers, the other colored flowers emit a foul odor. Its odors and its colors, which are both similar to rotted meat, attracts the pollinating Carrion Flies (Family Calliphoridae) and the American Carrion Beetles (Necrophilia americana L.). These flowers have no nectar.
Fruit: Its fruit is a juicy; multi-seeded; dull purple, purple-brown, or dark red; 6-angled or lobed; nearly spherical; ½ inch long berry. Many Bird (Class Aves) and Mammal (Class Mammalia) species eat these berries.
Seeds: Its seeds are ellipsoidal, slightly curved, ventrally concave, and longitudinally wrinkled.
These seeds have soft, fleshy appendages (elaiosomes) of lipids and proteins that attract Ants (Family Formicidae). (Elaiosome is Greek for “oil body”. Elaion is “oil” and soma is “body”.)
The Ants carry these seeds to their nests, eat the appendages, and discard the rest of the seed. This method is seed dispersal is called myrmecochory. (Myrmecochory is Greek for “ant dispersal”. Myrmeco is “ant” and chory is “dispersal”.)
Roots: Its roots are both fibrous and rhizomatous. Its rhizomes are short, ½ inch thick, and pale brown. Entire cloned colonies may rise from a single rhizome.
Habitat: Its habitat mainly consists of rich woods and swamp borders. They prefer acidic soils.
Range: Its range covers most of the eastern U.S., as far west as the Mississippi River, and southeastern Canada. Florida is excluded. However, they are rare west of the Appalachian Mountains. They are the most common eastern Trillium.
Uses of the Red Trillium:
Red Trillium had medicinal uses for the Native Americans and for the early European settlers. The powdered root was used in childbirth. The root was also used for treating various female disorders. Most of the plant was used as a poultice for tumors, inflammations, skin ulcers, snakebites, and insect stings. The grated roots were used as a poultice for swollen eyes. A rooted tea was used for treating hemorrhages, asthma, and various respiratory ailments. The roots were chewed for treating heart palpitations. The rhizomes were ground and were used for treating unidentified child ailments. The dried roots and rhizomes of this plant were once listed in the National Formulary (1916-1947) as an astringent, a tonic, an expectorant, and an alterative. This plant contains tannin, resin, and the glycosides saponin diosgenin and trillin. The diosgenin is related to cortisone, vitamin D, cardiac glycosides, and sex hormones. Some of the Native American tribes even used this plant as an aphrodisiac.
Red Trillium had some edible uses. The young, unfolded leaves and plants were eaten as a green or as a potherb. Because these leaves contain calcium oxalate crystals and crystal raphides, they should be boiled in several changes of water. However, they become bitter after the flowers bloom. The roots and the berries are inedible. The berries are emetic.
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