Trillums


Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum) & Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum)

Background:

Woodland wildflowers are important components of healthy forests, adding beauty, biodiversity, food and in some cases wildlife habitat. Two of Prince Edward Island’s most treasured wildflowers are trilliums. Both the Painted and the Nodding trillium are perennial wildflowers, often occupying the same forest site. As with all of our woodland wildflowers, they respond poorly to picking. You can do damage to both the plant and the forest by picking these flowers.

 

Identification:

The name “trillium” comes from the Latin for “three”, so these beauties are aptly named. A single stem divides into three triangular leaves. There are also three petals on each flower. The Painted trillium has a white, purple-veined flower on top. The flower of the Nodding Trillium ranges from white to pale pink and, as you can guess from its name, droops beneath the triangle of leaves. Both species grow between 20-40 cm (8-16″) tall and flower from late May into June.

Propagation:

Growing trilliums is nowhere near as intimidating as it has been made out to be. Both species grow quite well from seed, though they can take six years or longer to flower. Always ask permission from the landowner before gathering seed. As with any plant, take great care that you are not improving one area while impoverishing another. You should never take more than 10% of the seed in an area, and try not to go back to the same seed source year after year. Harvest seed from large, healthy plants in areas with heavy crops. Collecting trillium seed is a rewarding task. Both species have beautiful bright red berries and stand out in stark contrast to the green of the forest in September. It is as though there are rubies sprinkled throughout the forest. Remember that the seed of the Nodding trillium will be hanging down. Trillium seeds in the wild have a very interesting life history. As the fruit matures, it splits open and the clusters of seed fall to the ground. The seed coverings attract ants, which unwittingly wind up “planting” the seeds around the forest.

Trilliums can probably be increased at little cost by spreading some seed in the leaf litter in suitable forests that have no seed sources. Planting the seed in a nursery or garden bed works well. After collecting, simply plant the seed shallowly every 5 cm (2″) and mulch with leaf mould or compost. The first year a small root grows and in the second year a small leaf will give you a sign that things are happening. You can transplant during the third spring, being careful to dig deep and not disturb the roots. They should be planted out in suitable habitat, rich woodlands with moist soil. The Nodding trillium seems to tolerate wetter soil than the Painted, though neither like standing water.

Conservation:

As both are woodland wildflowers, the most important conservation measure is to maintain forest cover. While they can be found after a forest is clearcut, their lifespan tends to be limited once the site is exposed to full sun and begins to dry out. Since so much of the Island has been cleared for agriculture at one time, there are many areas that even if they have reverted to forest still lack seed sources for trilliums and other less-common wildflowers.

Special note:

There is a chance that the Purple trillium (trillium erectum) is on Prince Edward Island, but we have no confirmed records. It is known from rich hardwood slopes on the mainland, and could be in hardwood areas here. If anyone sees a trillium with dark purple or maroon petals, please make careful notes of the location and call the Island Nature Trust.

Upcoming Events

Jul
6
Mon
9:00 pm Summer Camp: Young Ecologists Se...
Summer Camp: Young Ecologists Se...
Jul 6 @ 9:00 pm – Jul 10 @ 3:00 pm
Young Ecologists: Session One This camp will begin to introduce the campers to the amazing complexity of our native Acadian forests. They will dissect owl pellets, take part in forest restoration planning and plantings and
Jul
13
Mon
9:00 pm Summer Camp: Nature Discovery Se...
Summer Camp: Nature Discovery Se...
Jul 13 @ 9:00 pm – Jul 17 @ 3:00 pm
Nature Discovery: Session One This camp will introduce the children to the woods, stream and native tree nursery that surround our Nature Center. The campers will delight in learning to use all their senses to
Jul
20
Mon
9:00 pm Summer Camp: Becoming a Naturali...
Summer Camp: Becoming a Naturali...
Jul 20 @ 9:00 pm – Jul 24 @ 3:00 pm
Becoming a Naturalist Session One This camp focuses on encountering and describing the natural world. Through the use of art and other hands-on outdoor activities, they’ll expand their understanding of life in the woodlands, waterways,
Jul
25
Sat
10:00 am Tracking the Mammals of PEI
Tracking the Mammals of PEI
Jul 25 @ 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Come on out and learn about the native and introduced mammals found on PEI, as well as a brief look at some of the mammals we’ve lost. After a brief slideshow, we’ll head off to
Jul
27
Mon
9:00 pm Summer Camp: Bushcraft Ecology A...
Summer Camp: Bushcraft Ecology A...
Jul 27 @ 9:00 pm – Jul 31 @ 3:00 pm
Bushcraft Ecology Ages 12-14 These campers will delight in learning survival skills such as one-match fire making, shelter building, rope making with natural fibres, and tracking animals. Touching on plant and tree identification, campers will

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