Trillium

Overall At-Risk Score: 46

Latin Name:

Trillium erectum (L.)²

Common Name:

Red Trillium; Wake Robin Trillium, Stinking Benjamin, Beth Root

Family:

Liliaceae (Lily Family)²

Geographic Region:

Found throughout all of New England and the Appalachian Mountains
AL, CT, DE, GA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WV¹

Habitat:

T. erectum favors cool, wet forested landscapes with well drained soil. It is found most frequently living in hardwood forest communities.³

Lifespan:

Perennial; can be very long-lived. Some specimen can be up to 30 years old³

Reproduction:

As with the other Trillium sp., T. erectum produces a single flower from the top the stem. The flowers emit a foul odor, see: Stinking Benjamin, attracting flies to pollinate the blooms. Once fertilized, the flowers begin developing a seed pod similar to a berry that is filled with tiny, oily seeds. These seeds are coated with elaiosomes that attract ants and wasps, encouraging them to eat the oils and disperse the seeds.³ Reliance on small insects limits the distribution range of T. erectum and is why they’re often found in large, densely populated colonies.
With long lasting flowers, T. erectum begins blooming as early as April and can continue to bloom through June.

Ability to withstand disturbance and over harvest:

Disturbance through logging and other forest developments have large impacts on T. erectum and most other Trillium sp. populations.

Status of Endangered/Threatened(by state):

Endangered in Illinois, Threatened in Rhode Island, and Exploitable Vulnerable in New York¹

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

The root of the plant is most commonly used. Taken as a tea or extract, it is used to treat menstrual disorders or induce childbirth. It is also commonly used externally as a poultice.

Vulnerability of habitat/changes of habitat quality and availability:

Requiring a dense canopy to block direct sunlight, Red Trillium like all other trillium flowers are impacted heavily by logging and other forestry practices.⁵ Soil compaction from human foot traffic and ATV use is also detrimental to T. erectum habitat.

Demand and Relative Acreage Needed to Meet Demand:

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

Though T. erectum is the species traditionally used as “Beth Root”, many herbal medicine practitioners harvest whatever Trillium species they have available. This can lead to unneccesary stress and population loss of many of the Endangered and Threatened Trillium species.

Recommendations for industrial and home use:

  1. USDA Plants. Trillium erectum.
    https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=trer3
  2. ITIS Report. Trillium erectum.
    https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=43070#null
  3. Penn State. The Virtual Nature Trail at Penn State New Kensington. T. erectum.
    https://www.psu.edu/dept/nkbiology/naturetrail/speciespages/red_trillium.html
  4. Mark Pistrang. US Forest Service. Red Trillium.
    https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/trillium_erectum.shtml
  5. Jenkins and Webster. Spatial patterning and population structure of a common woodland herb, Trillium erectum, in primary and post-logging secondary forests.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112709006458

    trillium

Trillium, most commonly known as bethroot, has a long record of historical use. Trillium erectum has dark red flowers (sometimes also white) and a unique smell that attracts carrion flies as its pollinator. There is also rich folklore as a love potion, which makes sense for the passion it elicits in plant lovers. Wake-robin and whip-poor-will flower are also wonderful common names that came about because the trillium blooms with the return of the birds and the peak time for the sound of the whip-poor-will call into the dusk. Trilliums are an essential and iconic spring ephemeral.

American Trillium Species Listed as Endangered, Threatened or Vulnerable

Sessile

  • Trillium decumbens-Tennessee
  • Trillium discolor-North Carolina
  • Trillium lancifolium-Florida, Tennessee
  • Trillium parviflorum-Washington
  • Trillium recurvatum-Michigan​
  • *Trillium reliquum – US, Georgia endangered species list
  • Trillium sessile-Michigan, New York
  • Trillium viride-Illinois, Michigan

Pedicillate

  • Trillium cernuum-Illinois, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Virginia
  • Trillium erectum-Illinois, New York, Rhode Island
  • Trillium flexipes-Maryland, New York
  • Trillium grandiflorum-Maine, New York
  • Trillium nivale-Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin
  • *Trillium persistens – US, Georgia Endangered species list
  • Trillium pusillum-Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee
  • Trillium rugelii -Tennessee
  • Trillium undulatum-Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Ohio
  • Trillium persistens and T. reliquum

* Listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This is the most critical designation, meaning the plant is in danger of extinction.

SEE RELATED ARTICLE AT THE MOUNTAIN ROSE BLOG
Herb Stories: How We Protect Trillium

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