How to Grow and Care For Trillium Plant

There are at least 43 species of Trillium (TRIL-ee-um), which is a perennial woodland flower mostly native to the United States. Most are found in the eastern US. 

Of the different varieties, like the white Trillium and red Trillium and some are quite showy, and some are rather simple. 

burgundy trillium flowersPin
burgundy red trillium bloom | chiyacat – DepositPhotos

All are members of the Liliaceae (lily) family. 

It is very difficult to identify the individual trillium species because they are very much alike, and flower colors may vary within the same species. 

Furthermore, species may cross to produce new hybrids.

The botanical name Trillium spp. and cvs. refers to the fact all species of Trillium have three leaves and three petals. 

The plant’s common names include:

  • Trinity Flower
  • Wake Robin
  • Triplet Lily

Trillium Care

Size & Growth

The types of Trillium vary somewhat in size and growth habits. 

You may see them growing in mass on a hillside, or you may find tiny individual specimens growing in obscure locations in the forest. 

Generally speaking, Trillium attains a maximum height of about 15″ inches and a maximum spread of about 18″ inches.

Trillium does not actually have stems and green leaves. 

The stem is really just an extension of the plants’ rhizome, and the leaves are actually a structure known as cataphylls.

Technically, the plant you see above the ground is a flowering scape, and the leaf-like structures are really bracts, which subtend the flower. 

The bracts perform the function of photosynthesis.

The leaf-like structures grow in a whorl around the stem and come in a variety of interesting colors and patterns. 

Some are solid green; some are mottled, and some have attractive red veining.

Check out Trillium Grandiflorum care

Flowering & Fragrance

All types of Trillium have three-petaled flowers, but the shapes of the flowers vary from one type to another; some are tubular, and some are cup-shaped. 

  • Some are displayed atop a stem, and some are stemless.
  • All types of Trillium bloom early in the springtime. 
  • Most bloom abundantly in mid-spring. 
  • Bees and pollinators, in general, like the nectar these flowers produce.
  • Flower colors vary greatly, ranging from pure white to pink, to red and even deepest mahogany. 
  • Likewise, the scents of the flowers vary. 
  • One type, Trillium erectum, is known as Stinking Benjamin because of its rather offensive odor.

Light & Temperature

These woodland plants grow best in partial shade to deep shade. 

They should have direct sunlight no more than 2 to 6 hours daily. 

Winter hardiness varies from one variety to another, but for the most part, Trillium is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9.

Watering & Feeding

As woodland plants, Trillium needs consistently moist soil with lots of organic matter mixed in. 

Fertilize by adding a top dressing of leaf mold in the springtime, once in mid-summer and again in the autumn.

Soil & Transplanting

Loamy soil, rich in organic matter with a slightly acidic pH balance is best. 

Even though these plants like to be consistently moist, it’s important the soil be well-draining. 

Your goal is to replicate the natural conditions of a shaded woodland setting. 

Plant Trillium late in the summer or very early in the autumn. 

When you plant the rhizomes, be sure to add plenty of humus and organic matter to the planting hole to give them a good start.

Grooming & Maintenance

Trillium is a wildflower. 

Once established, they will need little or no maintenance, but you must make sure the soil around them is consistently moist (use a soaker hose) and they are not getting too much sunlight. 

If the soil becomes too dry, plants may die back or go dormant. 

Be sure to provide extra mulch in the autumn. 

How To Propagate Trillium Flower

If conditions are not ideal, Trillium will spread very slowly. 

They spread via underground rhizomes, and with time they will form a dense mat. 

Propagate Trillium by division in the late summer or early in the autumn.

It’s also possible to start Trillium from seed, but this takes quite a while. 

Seed may take as long as two years to germinate, and then you may have to wait as long as seven years to see any blooms.

Trillium Flower Pest or Disease Problems

Generally speaking, Trillium has no pest problems. 

Deer may nibble on them, but they don’t usually lay waste to them.

Is The Plant Considered Toxic Or Poisonous?

When young and tender, Trillium leaves are non-toxic and can even be eaten. 

The berries and the roots are slightly toxic and may cause gastric distress.

Trillium contains a substance known as saponins, which can cause inflammation of the nasal passages resulting in sneezing. 

If ingested, the substance may act as a diuretic.

If livestock eat Trillium, they may experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating.

Is The Plant Considered Invasive?

Far from being invasive, Trillium is threatened because they are collected for use in folk medicine and also as landscape plants. 

This is why it’s so important not to collect plants and seeds in the wild. 

Remember, it is against the law to collect native plants from national grasslands and forests. 

Be sure to purchase your Trillium from a reputable nursery propagating them through ecologically sustainable methods.

Suggested Uses For Trillium Plants

Trillium makes the perfect choice for naturalizing in a shaded yard. 

They do well with other native plants such as ginger, ferns, and Columbines

They also make a nice border along a woodland walk for admiring their beauty.

Although they should be planted in a woodland setting, be careful not to plant them too close to trees with shallow roots because they will have to compete for soil space and for moisture. 

Trees with deep roots, such as magnolias, provide a better setting.

In a natural woodland garden, Trillium is a good food source for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. 

Additionally, several types of moths lay their eggs on Trillium, and small mammals eat the berries.

Trillium makes a nice addition to your folk medicine garden or your herb garden because it is used in many traditional recipes for concoctions such as uterine stimulants, coagulants, and expectorants.

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