This perennial wildflower is ¾-2' tall, consisting of a single central
stem and 3 widely spreading leaves at its apex. This stem is light
green to purplish green, terete, and glabrous. Individual leaves are
3-8" long and similarly across; they are oval-rhombic in shape, smooth
along their margins, and sessile (or nearly so). The upper leaf surface
is medium green and glabrous, while the lower surface is more pale;
both surfaces are glabrous. Primary veins of the leaves are parallel,
while secondary veins form an interlacing network. A flowering plant
produces an erect to
ascending peduncle about 1½-3" long, terminating in a single nodding
flower that is held above the leaves. The peduncle is light green and
glabrous. The flower is about 2" across, consisting of 3 maroon petals
(reddish purple), 3 light green to greenish maroon sepals,
6 stamens, and a dark maroon ovary with 3 small recurved stigmata.
When the flower is open, both petals and sepals are widely spreading;
they are about the same length and similar shape, although the sepals
narrow. The petals and sepals are lanceolate to ovate in shape and
The relatively small stamens have anthers and filaments that are about
the same length; the anthers have light gray to yellowish pollen. The
occurs from mid- to late spring for about 2-3 weeks. The flowers often
have an unpleasant scent. Afterwards, the ovary matures into a dark
maroon fruit that is broadly ovoid, 6-angled, and about ½" long.
This fruit contains several seeds. The root system is fibrous and
rhizomatous. Clonal colonies of plants are often produced from the
The preference is dappled sunlight or
light shade during the spring, followed by shade during the summer. The
soil should be more or less moist and contain loam with decaying
organic matter. Some protection from prevailing winds is also
desirable. It takes a long time for this trillium to mature from seed
(typically 5-10 years). The foliage dies down later in the summer.
The native Red Trillium is a rare
Illinois, where it is state-listed as 'endangered.' It is restricted to
a few counties in the northern section of the state (see Distribution
). Habitats consist
of rich deciduous woodlands that are more or less mesic and wooded
slopes. In such woodlands, Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum
Basswood (Tilia americana
or oaks (Quercus spp.
are often dominant
canopy trees. Further to the east, where it is more common, Red
Trillium is associated with woodlands that are dominated by Sugar Maple
and American Beech (Fagus
). This wildflower is sometimes cultivated in
Because the petals of the flowers have the color of rotting flesh and
often exude a similar odor, they probably attract flesh flies, carrion
beetles, and similar insects. The polyphagous larvae of two moth
(Black-Patched Clepsis) and Euplexia benesimilis
(American Angle Shades), have been observed to feed on the leaves of Trillium spp.
The foliage is also vulnerable to browsing by White-tailed Deer: This
has caused the decline of trillium populations in some parts of
Illinois. Food-appendages of the seeds are designed to attract ants and
possibly other insects. As a result, the seeds of Trillium spp.
be carried several feet from the mother plant by these insects, thereby
helping to spread these flowering plants into neighboring areas.
A flower garden in Urbana, Illinois.
This wildflower lacks a dominant common name: It has been referred to
as Red Trillium, Purple Trillium, Ill-Scented Trillium, Stinking
Benjamin, Stinking Willie, and Birthwort. In addition to maroon
(reddish purple), the flowers of this species can be white,
pink, yellow, or green. Some of these variations may be the result
of hybridization with other Trillium
In Illinois, only plants with
maroon-colored flowers have been encountered in the wild. Red Trillium
is fairly easy to identify because it is the only maroon-flowered
trillium within the state that holds its flower above the leaves on a
more or less erect
peduncle (flowering stalk). Two other species in Illinois, Trillium recurvatum
(Prairie Trillium) and Trillium
(Sessile Trillium), also have maroon-colored
they are sessile. The white-flowered form of Red Trillium can be
distinguished from other white-flowered Trillium spp.
its dark maroon ovary.