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Trillium cernuum (Whip-poor-will flower)
Smith, R.W.

Trillium cernuum

Trillium cernuum L.

Whip-poor-will Flower, Nodding Trillium, Nodding Wakerobin

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Synonym(s): Trillium cernuum var. macranthum


USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N), SPM (N)

Whip-poor-will Flower or Nodding Trillium is 12-18 inches in height. A nodding flower with three wavy petals hides beneath a whorl of three large leaves. The flower is white with deep rose anthers. A three-cornered fruit follows the flower, eventually turning red.

The species name, from the Latin cernuus ("drooping" or "nodding"), refers to the stance of the flowers. Nodding Trillium is similar to Bent Trillium (T. flexipes), which has flowers with white rather than pink anthers.


From the Image Gallery

11 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Fruit Type: Berry
Size Notes: Up to about 18 inches tall.
Fruit: Purple, Red.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Pink
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul
Bloom Notes: White, rarely pale pink.


USA: CT , DE , IA , IL , IN , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , ND , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SD , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: NB , NL , NS , ON , PE , QC
Native Distribution: Maritime, w. to Que. and MN, s. to New England, DE & uplands to GA & AL
Native Habitat: Damp, peaty, mostly conifer woods

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
Soil Description: Moldy, acidic soils.
Conditions Comments: Must have rich, moldy soil and plenty of shade and moisture. Maple leaves make a good wintercover.


Use Food: EDIBLE PARTS / PREPARATION: Young, unfolding leaves. Wash leaves in warm water to remove dirt and debris. Do not use dish detergent or any type of sanitizer. Cook in boiling, salted water for ten minutes and serve like greens. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)
Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: Berries and roots. Only low toxicity if eaten. Toxic Principle: Toxicity unknown, but caution because of its relationship with known toxic plants.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes


Description: Rhizome division or seed. Seeds do best when planted outdoors soon after fruits have ripened. Seedlings take many years to bloom. Divide rhizomes in fall.
Commercially Avail: yes

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1987 VOL. 4, NO.1 - One Million Bequest Announced, Lady Bird Johnson On Celebrating Four Years, Spri...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Trillium cernuum in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Trillium cernuum in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Trillium cernuum


Record Modified: 2023-02-28
Research By: TWC Staff

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