Plant of the Week

Red trillium (Trillium erectum L.)

by Mark Pistrang

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where the red trillium may be found.
Range map of the red trillium. States are colored green where the red trillium may be found.

Closeup red trillium.
Trillium erectum close-up. Photo by USDA Forest Service.

Trillium erectum habit.
Trillium erectum habit. Photo by MarkPistrang.

Red trillium is a member of the Liliaceae (lily) family. This family contains rhizomatous or a bulbous perennial herb with simple, basal or cauline (of the stem) leaves. All Trillium species are rhizomatous herbs with unbranched stems, and have leaves in a single whorl of three just below the solitary flower.

Red trillium, also known as Stinking Benjamin, has one nodding flower, with an unpleasant odor, rising on a stalk above the leaves. The flower is about 6.5 centimeters wide (2.5 inches), with three maroon or reddish brown petals. Its leaves can be up to 17.5 centimeters long (7 inches), and are net veined, rather than parallel veined which are more typical of the lily family. It flowers from April-June. The plant reaches 20 to 40 centimeters in height (8 to 16 inches).

Red trillium is found in rich, moist woods from Manitoba, Canada east to Nova Scotia, south to Georgia and Alabama, and north to Illinois and Michigan.

The root was traditionally used as an aid in childbirth, hence the name “Bethroot” (a corruption of “birth root”). Native Americans used root tea for menstrual disorders, to induce childbirth, and to aid in labor. The whole plant was made into a poultice used to treat tumors, inflammation, and ulcers.

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Plant of the Week

Decumbent Trillium (Trillium decumbens).
Decumbent Trillium (Trillium decumbens)