Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Trillium Time

Little Sweet Betsy is abloom and dancing with the Spring ephemerals.  Middle Tennesseans put on your hiking gear and head to one of our many natural areas. Davidson county residents, we are lucky folks to have the Metro Parks nearby (Warner Parks, Shelby Bottoms, Beaman Natural Are are but a few). Williamson County residents, of course you should pop over to visit Metro Parks, but,  you have a treasure in Owl's Hill, call them to sign up for wildflower hikes on Tuesdays and while you're there you can get acquainted with their resident owls.

Closer to home, Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) can be seen in remnant woodlands all over my neighborhood. Sixty or so years ago roads were bulldozed  through farmland and woodlands west of Nashville to build one of the city's first planned communities for the growing post war population. Our little bit of the neighborhood with its shallow soil and exposed limestone bedrock had never been farmed, but, had been logged, what you see now is secondary growth with a few untouched areas in the hills and ridges surrounding us. The indigenous wildflowers~ False Soloman's Seal, Spring Beauties, Rue Anemone, Trout-lily, False Garlic, Blue-eyed Grass, Wild Sweet William and Sweet Betsy, never disappeared and each spring delight residents with their arrival. 
some of the flowers of spring
The first spring in our new home I found blooming Toadshade (another common name) in the wayback backyard and transplanted it to my new woodland garden. That was 25 years ago, but, I remember carefully digging around it to get all the rhizome and roots and gently placing it in the garden. They survived and thrived despite my gardening ignorance.
a simple and graceful perennial
Trillium cuneatum typically flowers from early March to mid April. It can be found in rich, mostly upland woods, but, it is especially happy growing on Middle Tennessee's Ordovician limestone soils (neutral to basic soil). The two I transplanted have multiplied to many and as long as it isn't crowded by aggressive perennials it's happy. Trillium Plants can live for 25 years or longer and usually do not flower until they are several years old. It's found growing across Alabama,  Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. I read that it can even be found in Michigan~makes me wonder how it "escaped" to plant itself there!

Despite being known as Little Sweet Betsy it's the largest of the eastern sessile trilliums, sometimes topping out at 15 inches tall.  In case you wondered, sessile means stalkless and what appears as a stem is actually an extension of the horizontal rhizome. The leaves, petals and sepals of all trilliums come in groups of three.

The trillium is a simple, graceful perennial that is one of the most familiar and loved of the spring woodland wildflowers.
Trillium luteum
But, you don't have to take my word for it~Just check out  Trails and Trilliums this weekend in Monteagle. You can attend talks,  hike and buy wildflowers. They may even be selling trilliums!


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Lovely! Spring ephemerals are so pretty, and welcome, each year!

  2. I love Trilliums, especially our PNW native one, Trillium ovatum. The flowers start out white and turn pink as they age. How lucky that you found them growing on your property and managed to transplant them successfully many years ago.

  3. Trilliums are so beautiful...I'll never forget when I moved out to the PNW and actually saw them going wild...it blew my mind!

  4. What a delightful post, dear Gail! Seeing the Trilliums does make us very happy, in the wild and especially in our own gardens. Sweet little Betsy is a darling!

  5. Beautiful!
    I was walking at the edge of our woods to see if the dogwood trees were blooming and found ferns just uncurling their fiddleheads!
    The dogwoods are blooming on their very top branches. The lower limbs are just making leaves. I'll have to go elsewhere to get bloom photos. We are near the Natchez Trace - good photo opportunities there.
    Have a wonderful day!
    Lea's Menagerie

  6. If yours was my garden, I'd fill it with Trilliums. Fascinating plants with delightful leaves.

  7. Lovely, Gail. Trilliums seem primordial, ancient, and incredibly beautiful to me. I have Great White and Red Trilliums here. Some years, they seem like icing across the forest floor. Sigh...

  8. My Trillium ovatum is in full bloom and is Trillium cuneatum is just about to bloom. I am hoping mine will look as healthy as yours. Your Trillium luteum is new to me so I am off to the nursery to see if I can successfully grow it in Zone 8 in our wetter environment. Walking through your garden was wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing.

  9. Awww...I have seen a number of Trillium leaves this spring (Trillium ovatum), but no blooms :( I'm actually wondering if our abnormally dry spring is affecting their bloom period this spring. It doesn't quite seem like spring without them. I'm quite envious that yours seem to be thriving.

  10. Wow they are so beautiful, but you mean they only have a very short lifetime? Even without the flowers they are lovely with those broad, variegated leaves!

    1. Andrea, they can live for 25 years or more, but really don't like to be crowded. I've found that when I remove what ever is preventing spring ephemerals from blooming that they start right back up. Their rhizomes, bulbs and seeds are there waiting to pop open.

  11. Oh, those are so sweet! I wish I could walk the park trails with you and see them up close and personal!

  12. Thank you for this post! I have a bunch of T cuneatum but didn't know the species. Now I know!

  13. Beautiful photos! Trilliums are my one of my favorites. My T. cuneatum and T. luteum are up and showing off, but T. grandiflora is not yet. More to look forward to!

  14. I love all trilliums and cannot wait to see mine in about a month. Mine are just beginning to grow in.

  15. Our trilliums are just beginning to bloom. I haven't seen a yellow one around here. Hmmm I will be on the lookout for one.

  16. Wish I could make it to Tennessee this weekend! Your trilliums are such sweet things and must be very happy in your garden. As always, I learned something new today!

  17. LOVE these pictures of what we called "red trillium" growing up! We have carpets of while trillium grandiflorum in the woods behind my parents' house, but only a few t. Sessile here and there. (And they are the boring ones...not quite as pretty as your t. Cuneatum. :-)

  18. Excellent Trillium photos (thank you for getting down and dirty for the sake of us still looking at brown leaves and nothing much else) & I like the lovely wobbly font. We're easily a month away from Trilliums - T. grandiflora - our provincial flower. Can hardly wait.

  19. Wonderful. Is that Columbine growing around the Trilliums in one of the photos above?

  20. I don't know if I would like Trillium as much if they had different foliage.

  21. I would love to have Trillium and other sweet spring ephemerals, but I worry about the delicate ones...my dogs go crashing through the yard at times. Breakable plants need to be planted next to a tree or existing shrub.

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