Trilliums are among the most celebrated spring wildflowers, known for their distinctive shape and beautiful flowers. These herbaceous perennial monocots do not have true leaves, but instead have three large bracts which are arranged around their three sepals and three petals. They grow from rhizomes. Although the southern Appalachian Mountains are a hotspot for Trillium diversity, but there are only three easily distinguished species in Sewanee.
White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) is easily recognized by its showy white flower and veiny, leaf-like bracts. White Trillium holds its flower on a stem above its bracts, making it a wake robin. Read more about the distinction between wake robins and toad shades here. You can find this spring ephemeral in April and early May in Shakerag Hollow below Green’s View.
Southern Red Trillium (Trillium sulcatum) is another wake robin and spring ephemeral which can be distinguished by White Trillium by the color of its flower – it is a deep maroon. Only found in the southern Appalachian, Southern Red Trilliums were once thought to be a variation of Red Trillium (Trillium erectum). However, Southern Red Trilliums can be distinguished by their sepals, which are curved at the edges. Furthermore, Red Trilliums are not present on the Domain. You can find Southern Red Trilliums in flower below Green’s View in Shakerag Hollow in April and early March.
Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) is easily distinguished from the other Trillium on the Domain because it has mottled bracts and a sessile flower with erect petals. Because the flower does not sit on a stalk, it is known as a toad shade. Sweet Betsy flowers smell like bananas. You can find Sweet Betsy in flower in Shakerag Hollow, Morgan’s Steep, and along Bridal Veil Falls trail in March and April.
Get out to Shakerag soon to admire these beautiful spring wildflowers, but do not harvest them!