With the striking triangular shape and rich burgundy color of its flower, red trillium (Trillium erectum) makes a dramatic addition to the woodland garden. This spring ephemeral wildflower blooms before trees leaf out and dies back by midsummer. As you might guess from the “tri” in the name, trilliums have plant parts in threes, including three petals, three sepals, and three leaves on the slender stalks that arise from their rhizomatous roots. Although red trillium is pretty, don’t stick your nose too close—the flower’s scent has been described as “wet dog” or even “rotting meat,” which accounts for another of its common names: stinking Benjamin!
Common name: Red trillium, wake-robin, stinking Benjamin
Botanical name: Trillium erectum
Plant type: herbaceous perennial
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 8 to 18 inches
• Sun: Full sun in early spring (under deciduous trees)
• Soil: Rich, acidic, woodland soil
• Moisture: Evenly moist
• Mulch: A light layer of fallen leaves in autumn
• Pruning: None needed
• Fertilizer: An annual sprinkling of compost
• Fresh seeds in early summer
Pests and diseases
• The species typically has purplish red flowers, but white-flowered forms also occur in the wild.
• Don’t cut flowering stems—removing the plant’s few leaves can set back growth severely.
• Red trillium’s fruit is a fleshy red berry that’s eaten by birds and small animals.
All in the family
• Red trillium is most often listed as a member of the lily family (Liliaceae), though some recent taxonomic references now classify Trillium in Melanthiaceae.
• There are over 40 species of Trillium; they are native to North America and Asia.
Where to buy
• Amanda’s Garden, Springwater, NY, 585-669-2275, www.amandagarden.com
• American Native Nursery, Quakertown, PA, 855-752-6862, www.americannativenursery.com
• Roane Grown Nursery, Spencer, WV, 304-927-2115, www.lwfperennials.com
(Photo by Elizabeth Noll)