A Trillium Awakening

story and photos by Madis Senner

The trilliums are blooming. Take a walk in the woods and you may be blessed with a spectacular show of their large bright white petals, or reds. Better yet you may see a spray of their blooms covering a large swath of land—breath taking.

Occasionally you find single trillium plants by themselves. More often you find them in large clumps. That is because their seeds once dropped do not travel far. Although trilliums are spread and distributed by ants that carry them back to their nests to eat the seed’s coating (elaiosome) and then discard the still fertile seed away from their nest.

Trilliums are a sure sign that spring has arrived and coincides with the sighting of robins. Because of this some refer to them as Wake Robin. They were once referred to as Nosebleed because they were used to stop bleeding. Evidently some Christians refer to them as Trinity, because trilliums have three flower petals and three sepals (leaves). They are also called Birthroot, or Native Balm, for their use by Native Americans as an astringent during birth.

While trilliums are long lived they are also sensitive and easily damaged. So don’t cut the flowers as it will take years, if ever, for the plant to recuperate. The NYS DEC lists trilliums on New York State’s Protected Native Plant List. It cannot be “picked, severed, removed, damaged, or carried away” without the consent of the landowner. Red trilliums also protect themselves in way through the nodding, or drooping habit of their flowers, which tends to keep them hidden. Trilliums are not very aggressive and can easily be overrun by other plants.

Trilliums are woodland plants and prefer a leafy covering that helps regulate the soil temperature. You find them where the soil is moist, but not boggy.  I find them along stream banks, or areas that offer moisture. The summer heat or drying soil may have them dying back.

You can find trilliums at many of our forests in the Finger Lakes region. The Finger Lakes Trail https://fingerlakestrail.org, the Finger Lakes Land Trust https://www.fllt.org/learntheland/preserves/, the Genesee Land Trust  https://www.geneseelandtrust.org/explore and NYS DEC https://www.dec.ny.gov/about/76070.html all have trails on their lands that you can hike and explore.

Over the years I have found several spots on public woodlands where hundreds of white trilliums bloom in a confined space providing a spectacular show. I found several of these places in the summer or fall, long after the blooms were gone. I suggest getting to know their three-leaf pattern and look for it when you go for hike. Remember where you find large clumps and come back next spring.

To find trilliums look for low elevation trails through nutrient rich woodlands, preferably made up mostly of deciduous trees. You will see them along stream banks, or areas close by where the streambed changed course and is now dry.  If allowed, go off the trail and explore.

The trilliums have just started blooming across the Finger Lakes region and should do so for another few weeks. Get out and enjoy Mother Nature’s show.


Madis Senner is an author who lives in Syracuse. You can read his musings at motherearthprayers.blogspot.com. His latest book Everything Has Karma: Learning to Embrace Our Interconnectedness. Click this link to purchase book.

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