Monday, April 30, 2012

Apple #580: Trillium

I have always liked the trillium flowers. They grow wild near where I grew up, and my dad is always so delighted when they appear in the spring. In recent years, any time I've come across them in the woods, I've taken a picture or two. I never knew anyone else was as fond of them until the past few days, when I ran across two people talking about them. So it's time I did an Apple on trillium.

White trillium. Note the three petals and the three leaves. 
 (Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • The first question is, what is the plural of trillium? 
  • It's a Latin word and the way the Latin works, the plural would be trillia. However, the word has been adapted to English usage, and the way English works, plurals are made (generally speaking) by adding an -s. Therefore, the plural of trillium is trilliums. 
  • Some people do use the word trillium as either singular or plural. Trilliums sounds weird to me, so I'm going with trillium all the way. 

The petals and leaves in threes are more obvious here.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Trillium are members of the lily family.  I've never thought lilies smelled very good, and trillium are no different. They're pretty stinky. The stink is off-putting to us, but insects love the smell. To them, it smells like something rotting and therefore something good to eat. So they show up, looking for food, and wind up collecting all sorts of pollen. Clever stinky trillium.
  • They are so stinky that in fact, one common name for trillium is Stinking Benjamin.
  • You might think that name comes from a reference to some guy named Ben who was especially ripe, but the origin is not so colorful.  The name is actually a mis-pronunciation of another word benzoin, which is itself a corruption of another word, benjoin, which was an essence derived from plants in Sumatra to make perfume.
  • The essence of our fair trillium is pretty stinky, so it was distinguished from its sweeter-smelling benjoin providers with the moniker Stinking.
  • Yet another name for trillium is birthroot. People usually use this name to refer to the red varieties of trillium.

Red trillium, sometimes called birthroot, sometimes also called Stinking Benjamin.
(Photo from the Adirondack Almanack)

  • Birthroot was used in native medicine at the time of birth to stop excessive bleeding. It was also used for other women's health purposes, such as soothing tender nipples and other menstrual discomforts, and treating bleeding related to uterine fibroids.  Native healers also applied it topically to treat headaches, sunburn, and acne.
  • Yet another common name for trillium is the wake-robin.  Europeans thought the trillium was the same as a plant back home by that name. They were mistaken, but the name here has stuck. The name indicates that the flowers are sighted around the same time that the first robins of spring appear. 

 A pink trillium -- or would you say purple?
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • They like to grow in the shade, which means they thrive in wooded areas. People say that they grow in the East or Midwest, but according to the USDA, some variety of trillium grows in every state of the country except Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. 
  • Their roots are actually underground rhizomes, so they can spread to form a dense mat.  Pale yellow ones used to grow all across one part of our lawn in the spring time. Then the gas company came and tore up the yard to put in a gas line, and after that the trillium didn't come up anymore. That's why I'm always so happy to see them. 
  • I had always thought they only grew wild, but you can purchase trillium plants from some nurseries. All of my photos of trillium were taken in April. So it seems that, where I live, that's where they bloom. Even this year, when it seems that everything bloomed early.  

Here's a white variety with wavy petals. 
I took this photo toward the end of April, 
when the flowers were starting to turn brown and wilt.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • After the flowers fade, red or purple seed-berries form.  The seeds get distributed by ants.

Seed-berry of a red trillium.
(Photo by Ron P. Metcalfe at PBase)

  • By the way, it's best not to pick the trillium. They bruise easily so the flower won't look very pretty after you've picked it, and the plant will also be damaged and won't fare so well after the picking.

John Switzer, Trillium's beauty belies its odor, Columbus Dispatch, April 29, 2012
Choosing Voluntary Simplicity, Red Trillium, Trillium 
fine Gardening, How to Grow Trilliums
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Plants Profile, Trillium
Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project, The Trilliums

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!