Trillium grandiflorum – large white trillium – Wake Robin- Birth root
This is one of the most striking Spring wildflowers in the Ohio woods. It is hard to miss this when it is in bloom in April and early May. In 1986, the Ohio General Assembly made the white trillium Ohio’s official wildflower. The white trillium is also known as the wake robin, the snow trillium, the great white trillium, or the large white trillium. The General Assembly selected this flower because it exists in all of Ohio’s eighty-eight counties.
The name trillium comes from the Latin word tres, meaning three. The flower’s parts are found in sets of three – three petals, three sepals and three large leaves. Trilliums are also called wake robins, which suggest that their flowering signals the robins’ waking in spring, an idea consistent with eighteenth-century beliefs that northern birds hibernated.
Trilliums are perennials which sprout each season from small (two to three centimeters) deeply buried, irregularly shaped rhizomes. Like all spring woodland flowers, their early growth takes advantage of spring’s abundant sunshine before forest trees leaf out. During this brief time in the sun, the trillium must create enough energy for growth, flowering and seed development, as well as store sufficient energy in the rhizome for next season’s start.
All trilliums are favorite food for deers. The white trillium in their most favorite. Like many forest perennials, Trillium grandiflorum is a slow growing plant. Their seeds require double dormancy, meaning they take at least two years to fully germinate. Like most species of Trillium, flowering age is determined largely by the surface of the leaf and volume of the rhizome the plant has reached instead of age alone. They only receive the sun they need for energy in early spring – before the leaves of the trees shade them from the energy of the sun. Because growth is very slow in nature, it often takes seven to ten years in optimal conditions to reach flowering size. Browsing by deer and picking the flowers and the leaves will setback the flowering of the plants for years.
Trillium is one of many plants whose seeds are spread by ants and mice. Trillium seeds have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants take the seeds to their nest, where they eat the elaiosomes and put the seeds in their garbage, where they can be protected until they germinate. They also get the added bonus of growing in a medium made richer by the ant garbage. This is an example of a plant whose seeds are spread through myrmecochory, or ant-mediated dispersal.
The trillium was used as food and medicine for the Native Americans and the early pioneers. Today it is not used for food, because it takes so long for the plant to grow and reproduce. The young edible unfolding leaves are an excellent addition to salad tasting somewhat like sunflower seeds. The leaves can also be cooked as a pot herb. The root has been used as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, diuretic, emmenagogue (to promote menstruation), and ophthalmic. The plant contains Tannin, resin, glycosides trillin and trillarin, traces of essential oil, saponin, fatty oil and starch. It has been used externally and internally for female problems, and by the Native Americans as an aid in childbirth — hence it’s common name of Birth Root.
As the large white flower ages it turns to pink.
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