Purple Trillium (Trillium Recurvatum)

When I was studying for the Master Gardener’s program, I attended a lecture by Don Jacobs on woodland gardens. This was my first introduction to the world of Trilliums. I enjoyed his lecture so much that I purchased his book, “Trilliums in Woodland Garden- American Treasures” and asked him to autograph it after the program. He turned the pages to show me the varieties I was most likely to find in Northeast Arkansas–but he warned that the deer love to dine on trilliums and if I didn’t find any right away–that might be the reason. At my first opportunity, I solicited a hiking partner- my mom and began a search on Ozarkedge–book in tow– for trilliums. We searched high and low all morning and found nothing. Finally, we had ventured almost to the farthest reach of the property, and were climbing on a rocky ledge with poor footing, when mom cried out, “This has three leaves–is this it?”- and there was our first local encounter with a trillium- beautiful mottled green leaves and a scarlet top. Once we spied the first one, we discovered many nearby. Thereafter- we named the ledge ‘Trillium hill’.

Latin Name/Common Name- The latin name is Trillium recurvatum. The name trillium means three and comes from the Greek. The name is very descriptive. All trilliums have a whorl of three leaves. They also have 3 sepals, 3 petals and 2 whorls of 3 stamens. Trilliums have 3 stamens, 3 petals and 3 leaves. There are several different common names for Trillium Recurvatum. Various sources have referred to it as Purple trillium, Prairie Trillium, and Toadshade.

                                                     There are six stamens

Bloom Time– On Ozarkedge, the trilliums start pushing through the cold earth in early to mid March. The first blooms I’ve seen on Ozarkedge are from late March. The blooms start fading in late April/early May and by the end of May the Trilliums are gone for the year.

Trillium unfolding her leaves in mid March


                                                    Faded Trillium in early May

Bloom Color– When the blooms first open they are a vibrant, claret shade. It’s a beautiful contrast with the mottled, green foliage. The bloom period can last nearly a month, but the flowers gradually fade. By late April, the Purple Trillium is thinking about sleep and going back to the earth and her flowers are a soft maroon. The leaves have also faded by this time to a paler green, having lost much of the wonderful mottled appearance.


The early bloom color is a vivid claret which contrasts beautifully with the mottled leaves


                            Mottled leaf of Trillium recurvatum

Description– Nothing else looks like a trillium, with its three, mottled leaves, three petals and three sepals. They first appear with their curved leaflets reaching for the sun. The stalk is purple to greenish purple and grows taller each week until it peaks at about 18 inches or so.

Trilliums March 21st

                                                          Trilliums mid March

Habitat– Trillium recurvatum is found on the slopes of deciduous woods. They like moisture and I occasionally spot them in creek beds.  On Ozarkedge, it’s the western and southwestern slopes they love.

Trillium growing in dry creek bed
Trillium growing in dry creek bed

What’s Growing/Blooming Nearby? Purple trilliums tend to grow in clusters. Frequent companions include Dutchman’s breeches, Trout lilies, Rue anenome, Pale corydalis and the newly emerged leaves of Mayapples.  The Bloodroot have already bloomed and started their seed capsules by the time the trilliums open. But the lovely leaves of Bloodroot are mingled with the Trillium blooms.

Trillium with Mayapple, Rue anenome and Dutchman’s breeches
                                    Trillium with Iris cristata
Interesting Tidbits- If you happen to get snake bit while walking in the spring woods, folklore has it that crushing the fresh leaves of Trillium could be used to treat the wound. Of course, I haven’t tried this and in fact, my husband has insisted I order a pair of snake-proof boots since I refuse to quit walking in the woods in snake season.

 Endangered List- Prairie trillium has been listed as endangered in Michigan.

Trillium recurvatum is found in the following states according to the USDA plant site. http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=TRRE5

You can click on any of these states to go to the site and view the county distribution.