white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
great white trillium
Trillium rhomboideum Michaux var. grandiflorum Michx.
Trillium erythrocarpum Curtis
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for white trellium
is Trillium grandiflorum (Michx.) Salisb.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: White trillium is a native, perennial plant, arising from a single
stout rootstalk (rarely two) that grows from a short, large rhizome contain-
ing long roots. The un- branched stem is approximately 8 inches to 16 in-
ches tall topped by a whorl of three large, oval to egg-shaped leaves.
The height of white trillium is a useful indicator of deer browsing inten-
sity. In their foraging activities deer select larger plants over smaller plants.
Because flowering plants are larger than nonflowering plants, the number
of plants in flower decreases with increasing browsing intensity. As brows-
ing intensity increases, the height of the trillium becomes shorter in suc-
cessive growing seasons, presumably due to the loss of photosynthetic
capacity and reduction in belowground resources. Trillium stem height
was positively correlated with reproductive output by perennial herbaceous
plants and negatively correlated with the percent of the herbaceous under-
story that is browsed. This indicates change in stem height is as indication
of the general status of the herbaceous flora as influenced by deer brows-
ing. Based on deer population densities associated with study sites support-
ing trillium populations with stable stem heights and flowering plants,
maintenance of deer densities of 4-6 individuals/ km^2 is recommended
for deciduous forests in northeastern Illinois.
Leaves: The leaves are 2 inches to 6 inches long, 3 to 6 inches wide, with
a short sharply pointed tip, tapering slightly at the base. The leaves have
no teeth and the often have ruffled or wavy edges. Deep veins radiate from
the base of the solid green leaf.
Flowers: A single large, white, long-lasting flower arises above the leaf
whorl. The flower contains three white (sometimes pale green) petals,
elliptical shaped with pointed tips. The petal width varies greatly, from
relatively narrow (1 inch) to almost as wide as long (usually about 3 in-
ches). In the center is a group of several yellow stamens. As the plant
matures or is pollinated, the petals turn pink. White trelliums have the
biggest flower of all the flowers in the genus Trillium; it is showy, flaring
out from its funnel base. The flower is solitary and grows from a 2”-3”
stalk above the leaves.
Fruit/Seeds: The flower can produce a round, pale green berry approxi-
mately ½” wide. The berry is odorless and mealy inside.
Roots: The root system consists of a vertical rootstock with fibrous roots; spreading rhizomes are also produced.
REGENERATION PROCESS: White trillium propogates itself by
reseeding. White trillium seeds are primarily dispersed by ants, most
commonly by the species Aphaenogaster rudis. This method of dispersal
is known as myrmecochory, in which the ant collects the seed as it contains
food for their larvae. After eating this food, called the elaiosome, the seed
is unharmed and deposited away from the maternal plant thus avoiding
competition. The new seed grows in the ant’s nutrient rich deposited waste
and produces a new plant. The seed is also dispersed by whitetailed deer,
Odocoileus virginianus, who ingest and defecate the seed, moving the seed
several kilometers from the original place.
The plant has quite a long lifespan; the plant takes about 17 years to
mature and can live over 70 years.
This plant's major natural enemy is the whitetailed deer, who ingest the
large, reproductively active plants. In a 1998 study, deer ate 26% of the
trillium in a measured plot and out of the remaining plants, only 46%
flowered in the following year. The fact that the deer choose to eat the
larger plants produces two major consequences for White trillium. First,
the largest plants are the plants that tend to flower, and by eating these,
the deer can prevent reproduction in that specific year. Second, this same
study proved that herbivory reduces the plants size in the following year.
A size change can reduce White trillium's access to sunlight and therefore
hinder photosynthesis as well as reduce long term reproductive success.
HABITAT TYPES: White trellium is generally found in rich, mixed
woods, thickets, and swamps.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: White trellium prefers light (sandy), med-
ium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires moist yet well-drained
soil. The soil is preferably nutrient rich due to a thick layer of decomposing
leaves.The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow
in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade.
Many white trellium can be found at the base of a tree. White trellium can
be found as a solitary plant but are usually found in clumps or even carpet-
ing the forest floor. Cold winters may be necessary for Trillium spp.; this
may contribute to the possible locations where white trillium may grow.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period is mid- to late
spring, generally from late April to June.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: White trellium is primarily a native
species found in the eastern portion of the United States and portions
of Canada. It is naturally found from Georgia north to Maine and west
to the Mississippi River/Missouri River region. It has also been recorded
as occuring in Minnesota and the Canadian Provinces of Nova Scotia,
Quebec, and Ontario.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: In April 2013, Park Naturalist,
Vanessa Lewis, observed several specimens of white trillium located in the
far northern part of Sky Meadows State Park. Until then, it was the general
consensus that white trillium was found in adjacent Thompson Wildlife
Management Area to the south, while other specimens could be found to
the north of Sky Meadows State Park, particularly along the Appalachian
Trail. Few is any white trillium were believed to inhabit Sky Meadows.
However, white trillium may always have been in the northern part of the
Park; the confusion may reflect uncertainty concerning Park boundary
lines. In addition, a substantial population of white trillium occurs in the
far western section of the Park, all of them west of the Appalachian Trail.
Specimens can be seen growing along Old Trail and points west. Large
numbers of white trillium are believed to be "off-trail" in areas of limited
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Ants, flies and beetles pollinate trillium
flowers and seeds are dispersed over small distances often by ants. Bees
also visit white trelliums while chipmunks that take the fruit also help
disperse seeds. Whitetailed deer are particularly fond of consuming white
White trellium is a highly valued ornamental prized by gardeners. Un-
fortunately, many, if not most, white trellium are not commercially
cultivated; most white trellium sold are probably harvested from wild
Some native peoples used snow trillium roots and rootstocks as medicine,
and the young leaves are said to make excellent salad and cooked greens,
but it would be a shame to kill such a beautiful plant.
While the berries and roots are mildly toxic, the root is diuretic and if the
raw root is grated and applied as a poultice to the eye to reduce swelling.
The raw roots also used as a poultice on aching rheumatic joints. A decoc-
tion of the root bark can be used as drops in treating a sore ear. The grated
root is steeped in water and drunk as a tea for the treatment of cramps. The
grated root is simmered in water and drunk for the treatment of irregular
Crooked Run Valley