Saturday, May 05, 2007

In the Groves of the Crimson Queen

Red Trillium
(Trillium erectum)

The appearance of the first perfect red trillium of the season is always a cause for whooping, cavorting and celebration. Specimens of this showy member of the Lily family (Liliaceae) bear a single three-petalled bloom in rich deep crimson above three brilliant green leaves, and every single bloom is absolutely breathtaking, a flash of intense red in a monotonous landscape still adrift in last autumn's sodden papery leaves and winter's fallen twigs and branches.

The Latin trillium means three, and the qualifying adjective erectum means (obviously) erect or upright. Erectum is something of a misnomer, as these flowers always seem to be bending their heads or drooping slightly in May - that may have something to do with our cool brisk winds in springtime. One has to lie prostrate in the leaves before a red trillium, or position herself downhill to capture the blooms on a memory card.

The red trillium (or wake-robin) is a spring blooming resident of the hardwood forest which wears a number of names here: red trillium, purple trillium, stinking Benjamin, wood lily, bathwort, bethroot, birthroot, birthwort, bumblebee root, dishcloth, ground lily, ill-scented trillium, Indian balm, Indian shamrock, purple wake-robin, rattlesnake root, red Benjamin, squaw flower, squaw root, three-leaved nightshade, reeking lily.

The last name (reeking lily) is appropriate - what is not breathtaking (in the usual sense of the word anyway) about the red trillium is its fragrance - the fetid stench of this woodland resident in springtime is truly repulsive. Its reek has been carefully designed by the Old Wild Mother to attract multitudes of carrion flies and beetles which function as primary pollination agents.

Prostrations and olefactory properties aside, this is one spectacular bloom to encounter in the woodland in May.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful as well as full of information. Glad there's no such thing as a scratch-n-sniff monitor.

Anonymous said...

I have never seen a red trillium! Just lovely! Only white ones here!
thank you.


Suzie Ridler said...

I have not seen a red trillium either, my Mom loves white trilliums very much. Thank you for sharing this info with us!

Tabor said...

Wow. Is this in your woods?

kerrdelune said...

Tabor, yes it was in our woods in Lanark and I was speechless when I saw it. It was absolutely magnificent and I could hardly believe my eyes.