To many a child in the Illinois country, the prairie wake robin means spring. To many a person, this is the only wild trillium that is known, for the white trilliums of several species are not commonly scattered over the whole state. In the middle part of Illinois, where the oak woods predominate as islands in the once-prairie cornfields and acres of soybeans, the prairie wake robin stands somberly erect on an April day.
Trillium recurvatum Beck.
This trillium has the usual trillium arrangement of three spreading leaves; they are often mottled, much in the manner of the adder's tongues, but with a less silvery sheen. The petals of the flower are maroon and stiff, arched above the six tight black stamens which curve over the pistil. Three stiff sepals bend crisply down until they clasp around the maroon stem. This is the red trillium, a grim and almost puritanical-looking flower, but it is nevertheless well known to country children. The children of New Salem must have known it in their woods; so did the children of Bishop Hill and Nauvoo and Kaskaskia and Cahokia and Sangamo Town - children of those long-gone pioneer communities may have picked bouquets of spring flowers and added to them the lank stems of the prairie wake robin.
It is as much a part of the oak woods in April as the spring beauties, the dutchman's breeches, and the yellow violets. These come together, bloom together, vanish together when May comes and dune approaches, when the woods prepare for the coming of the shadowy summer.