It is likely that Trillium ovatum, otherwise known as Wake Robin, is 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.

trillium ovatum

Trillium ovatum

This is the flower that comes to mind when one hears the name “Trillium.” Mistakenly thought by many to be Oregon’s state flower by virtue of its abundance, its pure, bright white flower held above the triumvirate of bright green leaves is a welcome sight in the woods as well as the woodland garden.

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.

trillium chloropetalum

Trillium chloropetalum

The leaves are slightly mottled with reddish-brown.  The flower is held more stiffly erect above the leaves and can range in color from red through greenish yellow to white. Leaves and flowers are both larger than Trillium ovatum, hence the common name Giant Trillium.

trillium kurabayashii

Trillium kurabayashii

Large Purple Wake Robin is a rare one.  Found only in isolated colonies in Northern California and into the farthest SW corner of Oregon, the large leaves are distinctly mottled with dark green and are large and slightly ruffled when mature. The flower parts are held upright, perpendicular to the leaves, and generally of a deep, rich reddish purple in color. (photo credit to Paul Schlicter)

Needing perhaps a little more sheltered area than Trillium 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.