Catesby's Trillium; aka,
"Fair Venus train, appear,
Disclose the long-expecting flowers
And wake the purple year!"
Trillium catesbaei is a small to mid-sized trillium rarely more than a foot tall, frequently shorter, with pink or red stem. Each leaf has five prominent veins. Although young plants have tiny leaves to match the short scapes, in an old clump each stem's set of three leaves can be impressively long & broad. A long-established clump will produce increasing numbers of scapes & flowers & in time exceed a foot & a half height. Our young plant however is only six inches tall.
In mid to late spring it produces half-dollar-sized pink & white nodding blooms with yellow anthers, having extremely reflexed backward-curling petals. The three green sepals are not reflexed, so that the petals coil behind the sepals.
Not all specimens are as greatly reflexed as the one in our garden, but always curled to one degree or another. When brand new the flowers are white with a hint of pink blush, darkening with age to a fuller pink. Each charming, humble bloom can last quite some while.
Though not stemless like toadshade trilliums, the flower stem is nevertheless very short, being just long enough to assist the flower in dangling into the leaves where in many cases it is nearly hidden. The flower's overall shyness, its half-hidden appearance, & its pink blush has lent it the folkname Bashful Wakerobbin.
Other folknames include Nodding Rose Wake Robin or Rosy Trillium, Wood Lily, or Trinity Flower. It is native to Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, & South Carolina.
It requires bright shade & persistent moisture in well-draining soil. Rich humusy soil is essential. Crushed bark around the base of the plant helps keep the soil moist & acidified.
It is named for Mark Catesby (1679-1749), an English naturalist & painter who first visited Virginia in 1712. He for many years explored the rural southeast & the Bahamas. He wrote & beautifully illustrated the first book of flora & fauna of North America, Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. Only 300 copies of the first edition were printed, & the greater majority of these have, alas, been broken down to sell the Catesby's color prints one by one.
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