Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Western Trillium, TRILLIUM OVATUM

from the the April 19, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

I'd never heard anyone refer to a "drift" of anything until on the Internet I was checking out the gorgeous, white-blossomed wildflower shown above.

That's the Western Trillium, TRILLIUM OVATUM, which at least one wildflower fancier calls the "most beautiful of all native flowers." I've run into several authors referring to "drifts" of them. That's an evocative term and when you see large numbers of them nodding gracefully in an afternoon wind among frilly ferns in a moist, forest grove, "drift" seems a good word to apply to them -- though I'd be just as happy referring to a "diffusion" of them, or maybe a "chiming," a "fragrance" or even a "murmuring."

A few weeks ago in Mississippi I introduced you to our common trillium species there, which was very different. Its blossom was dark maroon, the flower wasn't "stalked" with a stem between it and the three leaves below it (as with our Western Trillium), and it was endemic to a tiny part of the country. Our white- flowered Western Trillium here occurs widely from British Columbia to California east to Montana and Idaho. I read that its petals turn purple as the flower ages. At this early stage of blooming I find only white flowers and few pink ones.

All my older manuals and field guides place trilliums in the Lily Family, but nowadays they're separated into their own Trillium Family, the Trilliaceae. I can understand why, if only because it's such a novelty for a plant to consist of a whorl of three leaves at the summit of a stem, where a single flower arises. I can't think of anything else like it.

The Trilliaceae comprises six genera of which only the genus Trillium occurs in North America -- except for the monotypic (only one species in the genus), endemic genus Pseudotrillium, which occurs, of all places, "in the Siskiyou Mountains of California and Oregon." I'll sure be looking for that one!