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Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

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Common Name
Drooping Trillium (Nodding Wakerobin, Declining Trillium)

 

Scientific Name
Trillium flexipes Raf.

 

Plant Family
Lily (Liliaceae)
New - Melanthiaceae

Garden Location
Woodland

 

Prime Season
Spring

 

 

Stem: The stem is an above ground portion (a flowering scape) of the underground rhizome. It is smooth, greenish at the top with reddish coloration near the base and grows up to 16 inches high.

Leaves: In the true trilliums the leaf like parts are actually bracts just below the flower base. They are of course much larger than the normal bract that you see, but they are equipped to fulfill the function of a leaf. The stalkless bracts, are a medium green color and in a whorl of 3 atop the stem are at least as wide as they are long, and frequently wider, ovate to rhombic in shape. The main veins are parallel to the margin and distinctive.

Flowers: The flower has a 1/2 to 4 inch long stalk (pedicle), that is held erect above the bracts but the stalk is long enough to cause the flower head to "droop" and face outward rather than upward, but still held above the bracts at an angle unlike Nodding Trillium where it hangs beneath the bracts. The stalk is green initially turning yellowish at maturity. The 3 creamy-white petals are distinctly veined, recurved and ovate to ovate-lanceolate in shape and about equal in length with the 3 green sepals which are lanceolate in shape and slightly recurved. The flower stamens number six, have white filaments and with anthers that are thick, creamy white to yellow and more than 1/4 inch long. Female flower parts are white at first, becoming yellowish at maturity. The ovary consists of 3 united carpels, widest near the base, strongly 6-angled, the style has 3 stigmas that have recurved tips but are closely grouped. Flowers have sometimes been reported to be maroon but that would be quite uncommon.

Fruit: Flowers mature to a rose-red to purplish capsule containing the seeds. The capsule is angled like the ovary, juicy and has an aroma of ripe fruit. Read Eloise Butler's notes at the bottom of this page.

 

Habitat: The plant grows from a thick rhizome and, if left undisturbed, will spread over time to form a nice clump as shown in the photo below. Like most Trilliums it will grow best in well drained soil in light full shade or dappled sun under the tree canopy. The plant dies back to dormancy by mid summer.

Names: The genus name Trillium, is derived from the Latin trilix, meaning 'triple' and referring to the flowers having parts of three. The species name, flexipes, means 'flexible, and probably refers to the long flower stalk. The author name for the plant classification - ‘Raf.’ refers to Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, (1783-1840), European polymath who traveled in the United States, lived here many years, collected specimens, and published over 6,700 binomial names for plants. He applied to be botanist on the Lewis & Clark expedition but Jefferson turned him down in favor of training Lewis to act as botanist and saving the expense on another person.

New Family: There is a movement among botanists to segregate the Trilliums and a few other genera out of the Liliaceae Family and into the Melanthiaceae. The U of M Herbarium has made this change on their Minnesota checklist but Flora of North America has not yet published this.

Comparison: While Drooping Trillium is similar in components to other white flowered Trilliums, the flower is not nearly as large as that of the Large-flowered Trillium, T. grandiflora , and that flower faces outward. Closest in comparison is Nodding Trillium, T. cernuum where the flower also declines but actually droops below the leaves.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Drooping Trillium Drooping Trillium

Above: The flowers of Drooping Trillium have creamy white reflexed petals, 3 green sepals that are less reflexed, thick creamy white to yellow anthers. Flowers appear solitary on a long stalk, causing the flower head to droop downward and rest on top of the green bracts.

Below: A single specimen of the plant clearly showing the drooping flower head on a long stem.

Drooping Trillium

Below: 1st photo - The 3 green sepals are the same length as the white petals and sharply pointed. 2nd photo - the decaying flower clearly shows the strongly 6-angled yellow ovary with the drying remains of the 3 stigmas of the style at the tip. 3rd photo - Like most large Trilliums, the lower portion of the stem takes on reddish colors while the upper is greenish.

Sepals ovary stem

Below: The maturing seed capsule. Note the angles reflecting the 3-part ovary.

seed capsule

Below: A grouping of Drooping Trillium with leaves of Trout Lily, Large-flowered Bellwort and Spotted Geranium visible.

Drooping Trillium

Notes:

Notes: This native trillium is not indigenous to the Garden but was added later. Former Curator Martha Crone noted in her log of planting it in 1935, '47, and '53. Drooping Trillium is native to the woods of SE Minnesota and most of the metro area. In North America it ranges from the Mississippi River eastward in the U.S., excepting New England, Florida and South Carolina and in Canada is found in Ontario. Four Trilliums are considered native to Minnesota: T. cernuum, T. flexipes, T. grandiflora and T. nivale.

Eloise Butler wrote: Trilliums are closely related to the lilies. All have a thick underground stem, bearing a single aerial stem, which supports a whorl of three large leaves varying somewhat in size and shape in different species. Above the leaf whorl arises the lovely flower, with or without a stalk; erect or drooping; white, red, purple or pink striped, according to the species. The flower is also on the plan of three green sepals, three colored petals, six stamens in two rows and one pistil made up of three united carpels. The name trillium probably comes from the three leaves. The plant has a number of local names - wake robin, bath flower and “way down east.” Published May 21, 1911, Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. Read article.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

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