En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - May 16, 2010

From: Johannesburg, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: General Botany
Title: Trillium phototropism
Answered by: Damon Waitt


I'm SURE you haven't had this question before. I live in northern Michigan in a wooded subdivision where we have clouds of wild grandiflorum trilliums growing in the woods on either side of the road. Today I noticed a four-petaled trillium, which got me searching the net. My question has to do with something else I've noticed. Every day, 90 percent of the trilliums on the RIGHT side of the road "face" the road. At the same time, 90 percent of the trilliums on the LEFT side of the road "face" the road. I've decided they must have some kind of sun-tracking mechanism like sunflowers. (Only, of course, the trilliums are not seeking the sun but the lighter area of the open road.) They do this in the early spring even when the trees are virtually leafless. The mechanism seems to "work" for trilliums far into the woods, not just those within ten feet of the road. Every year I marvel at this, but am stumped to explain it. Can you help?


Regarding the four-petaled Trillium flower it is not unusual to find variation in the number of floral parts. This phenomenon results from developmental instabilibity and it casuses meristic variation (variation in the number of parts). Both environmental and genetic factors can cause a deviation from the normal number of floral parts and it occurs at a low level throughout the plant world.

Now for part two of your question. You are quite observant to notice the solar tracking behaviour of the Trillium flowers. This phenomenon is called phototropism (light seeking growth) and it is common in the genus Trillium.


From the Image Gallery

White wake-robin
Trillium grandiflorum

Red trillium
Trillium erectum

Painted trillium
Trillium undulatum

More General Botany Questions

Question about male muscadine plants
June 01, 2012 - I have 9 muscadine plants, 3 females and 6 perfect flowered growing in my yard. A plant started growing under my porch lst year and it grew through the spaces between the boards. It grew nicely. It fl...
view the full question and answer

What is white sticky substance in the Mandevilla vine?
June 15, 2012 - When I was watering my Mandevilla one of the vines broke and there was a white, sticky substance that came out of the vine. I was just curious as to what that is.
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants on temperature
October 18, 2005 - Mr.Smarty Plants, I am a student at Hill Freedman Middle school and I have a science fair coming up. I really need a answer to this question "What effect does temperature have on the growth of plants...
view the full question and answer

What is a Demaree Rose?
August 14, 2013 - Have been told the Apache Plume is the Wild Rose after which the Wild Rose Pass north of Ft. Davis was named. However, other research indicates it was the Demaree Rose. What is true and are there ...
view the full question and answer

Use of native non-vascular plants from Pisgah Forest NC
February 11, 2011 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, Some of the smartest native plants around to use as horticultural choices don't require any chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides; tolerate extreme weather including ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center