Large White Trillium

Trillium grandiflorum

Description & Overview

Large White Trillium is one of the most well-known woodland spring flowers in the United States. It’s a spring ephemeral with lovely white flowers and three ruffled petals. Spring ephemerals are like limited edition perennials; they’re only viewable for a short time. However, shortly after blooming and once temperatures rise, the entire above-ground portion of the plant dies back while the roots continue to grow.


Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 12-18 inches
Mature Spread: 6-12 inches
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Upright. Slow-spreading.
Light Requirements: Partial Shade to Full Shade
Site Requirements: Moist, well-draining. Organically rich.
Flower: White. 3 petals. Wavy to ruffled edges.
Bloom Period: April – May
Foliage: Deep green
Fall Color: N/A
Fruit Notes: Berry-like capsule, pale green before darkening to red-maroon when ripe. 2.5-5 cm long.

Suggested Uses:

Large White Trillium is a perennial wildflower with a broad native habitat extending throughout much of eastern North America. This trillium species is rhizomatous and spreads through underground horizontal stems. If allowed to grow in peace in the wild, they can often be found in spectacular groupings of several dozen to even hundreds. Trilium grandiflorum is easily recognizable thanks to its waxy white flower blooming atop a single stalk arising from a whorl of three deep green leaves. As the plant ages, the wavy-edged flowers will often fade to pale rosy pink.

Plant trillium in an environment similar to where it grows naturally. It’s typically found in rich deciduous woodlands, wooded slopes, shady ravines, swamps, shaded riverbanks, and rocky bluffs in the wild. This is a great flower for garden use and is excellent when massed in a shaded woodland garden, naturalized areas, or wildflower gardens.

Wildlife Value:

As showy as Trillium is, insects seldom visit the flowers. Little carpenter bees (Ceratina dupla) have been observed collecting pollen from them. The caterpillars of the American angle shades moth and black-patched clepsis moth have also been observed feeding on Trillium. White-tailed deer readily browse foliage and flowers. Ants are attracted to seeds because of their elaiosomes, the fleshy structure attached to the seed, which is rich in lipids and proteins. Ants also help distribute seeds which aids their colonization.

When trillium populations are high enough, its large leaves may provide cover for small mammals.

Maintenance Tips:

Large White Trillium prefers dappled sunlight or light shade, although it can tolerate heavy shade. It occurs naturally where the soil is rich, moist, and preferably loamy. Trilliums will grow in clay so long as the soil is not too heavy or wet. A site chopped full of decaying organic material is desirable. The leaves of trees make the perfect mulch which will help protect the plant from drying out.

Trillium is slow to develop from seed and may take many years to reach maturity. Most growth and development will occur during spring before the forest canopy full leafs out.

Since it’s a spring ephemeral, once the flowers are spent, the entire above-ground portion dies back to the ground. The energy taken in while the plant is visible powers the roots to continue growing until going dormant at the end of the season.

Pests/Problems:

Few insects visit the flowers of Trillium despite how showy they are. Thanks to this, no significant insect or disease problems affect Large White Trillium.

However, white-tailed deer readily browse the foliage and flowers of Trillium.

Leaf Lore:

The genus name Trillium comes from “tri” referring to the flower parts occurring in threes and llium from ‘liliaceous’, referring to the funnel-shaped flower.

The specific epithet grandiflorum comes from the Latin word ‘grandis’ meaning “grand and large”; ‘flora’ has the meaning of “goddess of flowers” referring to the large white flower.

Trilliums are generally divided into two major groups, pedicellate and sessile. In the pedicellate trilliums, the flower sits upon a pedicel that extends from the whorl of bracts, either “erect” above the bracts or “nodding” recurved under the bracts. In the sessile trilliums, there is no pedicel, and the flower appears to arise directly from the bracts. Large White Trillium falls within the pedicellate group.

Joseph E. Meyer claimed in a 1918 publication that an astringent tonic could be derived from the roots of Trillium in controlling bleeding and diarrhea.

The foliage of Trillium may be cleaned, cooked, and served like greens, but it would be a shame to kill such a beautiful plant. Berries and roots are poisonous, although they have low toxicity if eaten.

Companion Plants:

Large White Trillium may be found nearby other Wisconsin native woodland plants such as Wild Sarsaparilla, Jack in the Pulpit, Spring Beauty, Wild Geranium, Blue Cohosh, Sharp-lobed Hepatica, and Dutchmen’s Breeches.




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