It is my opinion that the first week of May belongs to all the spring wild flowers but most especially to the trilliums. A minimum of six different species of trillium can be seen along the trails which surround the Tapoco Lodge in Western North Carolina in late April and May.
The sessile trillium (Trillium cuneatum) arrives earliest, along with the beautiful painted trillium (Trillium undulatum). They are followed closely by the blooming of the yellow trillium (T. luteum), the red trillium or Wake Robin (T. erectum) and the white or large-flowered trillium (T. grandiflorum). The very last trillium to bloom is the huge Trillium vaseyii, with deep maroon blooms hiding shyly beneath three large green leaves.
To me, these flowers seem to personify spring. I look forward to seeing them every year. The trilliums are very long-lived plants and relatively easy to grow if they are in the right environment. They must be warmed by the sun to emerge in the spring, so planting them in the full shade is not a good idea. Most spring wild flowers require some sun to bloom and reproduce and the spring ephemerals count on blooming before the trees have a chance to leaf out and shade the forest floor.
One of the common names for red trillium is “Bethroot” or “Birthroot” because the root was traditionally used by the Native Americans to ease pain during childbirth. This information was shared with the early settlers in Appalachia, who continued the practice.
Trillium flowers are pollinated primarily by honey bees, bumblebees, wasps and other members of the Hymenoptera Insect Order. An exception is the Red trillium which is pollinated by flies and beetles that are attracted to the unpleasant odor of the flower. It smells like rotting meat! Once the flower is pollinated it produces seeds which are spread by ants and mice.The ants and mice bury the seeds, where they develop underground for almost a year before sending up a slim, green shoot.
As tempting as it is to pick a bouquet of trillium, try to resist. The three large leaves on each stalk gather food for the trillium. Although picking a flower will not kill the plant, it definitely can damage it.