In praise of the Trillium, our provincial flower

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Most people know of the White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) as Ontario’s provincial flower. This is the flower featured on many of our provincial documents, from health cards to driver’s licenses. It was on March 25, 1937 that the Province of Ontario gave the trillium this honour.

Trilliums have three broad leaves, three small green sepals, three petals, and a three-sectioned seedpod. The “tri” in the Latin word trillium refers to these collections of three.

Trilliums are very slow-growing plants; their seeds take at least two years to fully germinate. The plant itself takes seven to 10 years to reach flowering size. After first flowering, it will bloom annually in early spring, with the blooms lasting for around three weeks. Trilliums can live for up to 25 years.

Did you know that the plants are phototropic? This means that the blooms will bend toward the sun and follow it across the sky.

You may not know that ants are involved in the dispersion efforts of the trillium. Ants are attracted to the protein-rich seed sac on the seeds which they eat after carrying the entire seed back to their nests. The actual seeds are not harmed during this process, and are later discarded to grow a new plant in a new location.

As a spring ephemeral, trilliums have a few short weeks in the spring to collect as much sunlight and nutrients as possible to be able to survive for the rest of the year. If trilliums are picked in the height of their flowering glory, they may not be able to collect enough resources to survive.

There’s a pervasive myth that it’s against the law in Ontario to pick or relocate these native plants. In 2009, former Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Jeff Leal introduced a private members’ bill called the Ontario Trillium Protection Act. Although the bill passed first reading, it never became law. If you do relocate these spring beauties or buy them from a garden centre, mulch with leaf litter for best results. Filtered light is best as they cannot tolerate much direct sun. The soil needs to be rich in organic matter, well-drained, and moist.

There are several varieties of trilliums in Ontario, with the most common being the White Trillium. The next common variety in our region is the Red Trillium which is also called “Stinking Benjamin” (Trillium erecta). Why? Go out this spring and find one and take a sniff. You may discover it smells a bit like rotting meat. Yikes! The aroma’s purpose is to attract pollinators, and in this case, the pollinators are green flesh-flies who are out in search of rotting meat on which to lay their eggs. Instead of finding the perfect nursery, however, they end up assisting the plant in its procreative efforts.

Plants are rarely boring, once you get to know them!

2 thoughts on “In praise of the Trillium, our provincial flower”

  1. MJ you are always teaching me something I didn’t know. Nice that those pesky ants contribute to the beauty of the forests.

    Like

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