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It is likely that Trillium ovatum, otherwise known as Wake Robin, is perhaps the most familiar floral sight in our woods and forests. As its common name suggests, it is one of the earliest blooming of our native flowers, a herald of spring. There are a few species of trillium native to our area, part of a group of hundreds of species worldwide.
Whatever the color or size, they are recognizable by the collar of whorled leaves held above a bare stem, holding a single flower. Spreading by rhizomes, trilliums will, if left undisturbed, form a colony and carpet the woodland floor in early spring.
They can also be propagated by seed, a much slower process. In nature a sort of back-up system is in place with the cooperation of mice and ants, to help spread the seeds; ants especially are attracted by a protein-rich fleshy attachment to the seed called an elaiosome. They carry the seeds back to their nest, consume the desired part and then discard the seed itself, which in turn eventually germinates having been conveniently “planted” in the ground in an organically rich environment. Click photos to enlarge.
Shade to partial shade, organically rich and well-drained soil; regular water in the spring (which usually happens automatically in the Pacific NW), little or no water in the summer when the plant has died back and gone dormant for the season. The white flower gradually turns to purple as it ages.
Needing perhaps a little more sheltered area than T. ovatum, it is still quite garden-worthy. Propagated by seed by growers allowed to sustainably collect the seed from the wild, the care and length of time it takes to grow these plants to retail ready size and condition in part explains their price.
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Common: Wake Robin
Origin: Moist wooded areas throughout the Pacific Northwest, low to mid-elevations
Characteristics: Leaves are triangular to oval shaped; usually three, held in a whorl at the top of a 10 to 12” stem. A singular flower rests on or shortly above the whorl of leaves.
Colors range from white to greenish yellow to purple, depending on species. Sometimes forming a curved to flat, open triangle of three petals, or standing upright from the surface of the leaves, again depending on the species.
Culture: Plant in full to partial shade, in soil rich with organic matter and good drainage. Wants regular water during the growing season, little or none in summer when plant goes dormant.
Diseases/Pests: Snails and slugs can be a problem. In poorly drained soil rhizomes can rot and plants can suffer from fungal diseases.