This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Solitary, pure white, about i in. long, on an erect or curved peduncle, from a whorl of 3 leaves at summit of stem. Three spreading, green, narrowly oblong sepals; 3 oval or oblong petals; 6 stamens, the anthers about as long as filaments; 3 slender styles stigmatic along inner side. Stem: 2 to 6 in. high, from a short, tuber-like rootstock. Leaves: 3 in a whorl below the flower, 1 to 2 in. long, broadly oval, rounded at end, on short petioles. Fruit: A 3-lobed reddish berry, about 1/2 in. diameter,the sepals adhering.
Preferred Habitat - Rich, moist woods and thickets.
Flowering Season - March - May.
Distribution - Pennsylvania, westward to Minnesota and Iowa, south to Kentucky.
Only this delicate little flower, as white as the snow it sometimes must push through to reach the sunshine melting the last drifts in the leafless woods, can be said to wake the robins into song; a full chorus of feathered love-makers greets the appearance of the more widely distributed, and therefore better known, species.
By the rule of three all the trilliums, as their name implies, regulate their affairs. Three sepals, three petals, twice three stamens, three styles, a three-celled ovary, the flower growing out from a whorl of three leaves, make the naming of wake-robins a simple matter to the novice. Rarely do the parts divide into fours, or the petals and sepals revert to primitive green leaves. With the exception of the painted trillium which sometimes grows in bogs, all the clan live in rich, moist woods. It is said the roots are poisonous. In them the next year's leaves lie curled through the winter, as in the iris and Solomon's seal, among others.
One of the most chastely beautiful of our native wild flowers - so lovely that many shady nooks in English rock-gardens and ferneries contain imported clumps of the vigorous plant - is the Large-flowered Wake-Robin, or White Wood Lily (T. grandi-florum). Under favorable conditions the waxy, thin, white, or occasionally pink, strongly veined petals may exceed two inches; and in Michigan a monstrous form has been found. The broadly rhombic leaves, tapering to a point, and lacking petioles, are seated in the usual whorl of three, at the summit of the stem, which may attain a foot and a half in height; from the centre the decorative flower arises on a long peduncle. At first the entrance to the blossom is closed by the long anthers which much exceed the filaments; and hive-bees, among other insects, in collecting pollen, transfer it to older and now expanded flowers, in which the low stigmas appear between the tall separated stamens. Nectar stored in septal glands at the base invites the visitor laden with pollen from young flowers to come in contact with the three late maturing stigmas. The berry is black. From Quebec to Florida and far westward we find this tardy wake-robin in May or June.
Painted Wake-Robin (Trillium undulatum)
Certainly the commonest trillium in the East, although it thrives as far westward as Ontario and Missouri, and south to Georgia, is the Nodding Wake-Robin (T. cernuum), whose white or pinkish flower droops from its peduncle until it is all but hidden under the whorl of broadly rhombic, tapering leaves. The wavy margined petals, about as long as the sepals - that is to say, half an inch long or over - curve backward at maturity. According to Miss Carter, who studied the flower in the Botanical Garden at South Hadley, Mass., it is slightly proterandrous, maturing its anthers first, but with a chance of spontaneous self-pollination by the stigmas recurving to meet the shorter stamens. She saw bumblebees visiting it for nectar. In late summer an egg-shaped, pendulous red-purple berry swings from the summit. One finds the plant in bloom from April to June, according to the climate of its long range.
Perhaps the most strikingly beautiful member of the tribe is the Painted Trillium (T. undulatum) - T. erythrocarpiim of Gray. At the summit of the slender stem, rising perhaps only eight inches, or maybe twice as high, this charming flower spreads its long, wavy-edged, waxy-white petals veined and striped with deep pink or wine color. The large ovate leaves, long-tapering to a point, are rounded at the base into short petioles. The rounded, three-angled, bright red, shining berry is seated in the persistent calyx. With the same range as the nodding trillium's, the painted wake-robin comes into bloom nearly a month later - in May and June - when all the birds are not only wide awake, but have finished courting, and are busily engaged in the most serious business of life.