TrilliumWestern Trillium
the most beautiful of all Northwest native flowers

"In the damp Spring woods
The painted trillium smiles."

-Amy Lowell


The Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum), once so emblematic of the many river valleys that line Puget Sound, have not thrived in the modern world as their natural woodland settings are displaced by the suburban sprawls that have filled up nearly every valley from the top of the map to the bottom.

The difficulty these flowers have with children always nearby to pick them is a famous tragedy in these parts. When I was small I remember being told, "Don't pick the trilliums! If you do, they won't bloom again for seven years!"

Well, that might not be exactly their specific natural history, but it was close enough, not that children's desirous need to pick flowers was much alleviated by the warning.

And before I was fully out of childhood, the trilliums every child had once gathered by the handsful were rare to non-existent in that area.

TrilliumFortunately it is still a common trillium encountered on nature walks when one gets a bit further from where the scampering feet & eager fingers of children can reach.

Kids & big dogs make trilliums a little difficult as garden plants too, but most certainly not out of the question, & they are essential to my & Granny Artemis's "woodland garden" approach.

The April 2001 photo that heads this page I really like, despite how dark the background came out. I photographed it by crawling into the deep shade under a fountaining Franchet's cotoneaster & the lighting was so minimal the camera's lens stayed open a good quarter-second.

I just knew it wasn't possible I hadn't shaken the hand-held camera, so was quite happy after the exposures were printed to see that I'd held my hand pretty steady after all, & captured perfectly the ghostly splendor of a trillium in its preferred poorly lit setting.

TrilliumThat same specimen that was single-blossomed two years before in 2003 had six stems with six trios of leaves, on its way to becoming a serious clump. Already in March it had two buds, & bloomed pure white in early April. These two blooms almost immediately began to darken into pink. The second photo is a late-April close-up of one of the blooms showing color that last year took rather longer to darken this much. It continues to darken until in May has acquired streaks of of rich purple.

In 2004 that same clump was larger still, with three flowers amidst a half-dozen trios of leaves. Slowly but steadily it is headed toward becoming a large flowery clump. But even when young with a single stem of three leaves & one bloom, the western trillium is just amazing.

The third photo is a different western trillium in the same garden. It began in early April (2004) as pure white, by mid-April had pastel shadings of purple, on its way to becoming evenly violet-purple for its three sharp petals atop three green sepals. In another year or two, its flowers will be fatter-petalled to match the other one above.

T. ovatum grows native from British Columbia to northern California & inland to Montana & Colorado. For the garden it requires considerable moistness as well as shade, so it's nearest companion plants under the Franchet's are bunchberries, & jack-in-the-pulpits & sundry ferns.

We also have several other trilliums in the same shade garden, including: T. erectum or Red Wake-robin; T. grandiflorum the Snowy Trillium; T. cuneatum or "Toadshade"; T. chloropetalum the Giant Wake-robin; T. tschonoskii the Japanese White Trillium; & T. virede var luteum the Yellow Goblet Trillium, besides Dog Tooth Lilies & other shade-plants.


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