Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Toadshade, Wakerobin, Birthwort = Trillium

 A couple weeks ago, my brother (who lives in a small town in Washington) sent me this picture with the comment “Here’s one you won’t probably see in Texas”

Yep – he’s right.  It won’t grow here in my part of Texas.  This is Trillium grandiflorum, a member of the Lily family.  The flowers are three petaled and large – up to 5” across.  It’s most commonly found in the northwest to northeast states.  And in most of those states, it is an endangered, protected wildflower. 

Why?  Well according to sources I checked with, Trillium grandiflorum is a very popular garden flower.  However, it is believed that those for sale are from plants collected in the wild.  Heavy collecting and changes to its habitat have caused fewer and fewer Trillium to survive.  Picking a trillium flower does not kill the plant but damage can result if the green leaves are disturbed. If the leaves are taken you won’t see any more growth on that particular plant until the following year or possibly not even then depending on the size of the rhizome. So, if you are ever hiking up in the frozen northlands and come across a patch of Trillium, admire it, take pictures, and walk on.

Now, why won’t it grow here.  It’s hot here.  Hot and humid.  And hot.  Trillium grows best in a temperate climate, in a woodland setting.  It grows from rhizomes and will bloom from early spring to early summer.  It likes to have leaf litter mulch (as you would find in woodlands) to keep the ground moist and cool.  And, it’s not likely to bloom if under stress from excessive sun and heat (that would be here). 

Well fine!

However, I thought, perhaps I can grow one from seed, plant it carefully and keep an eye on how it does – deep shade, lots of mulch.  Well, seed germination is a real process.  The seed, produced at the end of summer can take as long as 90 – 120 days to germinate.  The seedling develops in the dark and can take almost a year before sending up one small leaf.  Then, although long-lived (like 25+ years), Trillium grows very slowly and it will be between 7 to 9 years before it blooms.  OK – so maybe I won’t do that.  I can be patient, but a year before a single leaf???? Seven to 9 years before a bloom????  No, I think I’ll take a pass after all.

OK – what else?  Well Trillium is an herb.  The young leaves can be added to a salad or cooked as a pot herb (for flavoring rather than, say spinach-like).  The root is used as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, and diuretic.  Fresh or dried, the root may be boiled in milk to treat dysentery.  Grate the root and apply as a poultice to the eye to reduce swelling or on rheumatic joints.  Boil the leaves in lard as a poultice for ulcers or to prevent gangrene.  An infusion of the root was used to help with childbirth or cramps.  And, finally, the root bark can be used as drops for earache. 

Now, lest you comment “HA! We can grow a smaller version of Trillium here!

No, this isn’t Trillium.  This is Herbertia, a member of the Iris family.  It’s a Texas native and blooms from March to late April.  It grows from a small bulb which can be very deeply planted and hard to find if you try to dig one up.  The best way to dig up bulbs - locate a plant by the spring flower, mark the area then carefully dig up and divide in the fall. The flowers are very small – about 2 inches across and are a beautiful purple color.  The flowers open for one day only.  It’s a good source of nectar for bees and butterflies.  Likes light shade and dry feet.  Grows well in any type of soil.  If left undisturbed, Herbertia will multiply and become a carpet of blue flowers.

Ok – well Trillium would have been on my list of “Things I Want to Plant”, but I’ve taken off.  I’ll just have to admire it from afar.

Take care.

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