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Trillium erectum (Red trillium)
Cressler, Alan

Trillium erectum

Trillium erectum L.

Red Trillium, Red Wakerobin, Stinking Benjamin, Wet Dog Trillium, Wet Dog Wakerobin, Purple Trillium, Purple Wakerobin

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Synonym(s): Trillium erectum var. album, Trillium erectum var. flavum

USDA Symbol: TRER3

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

Trillium erectumís single whorl of broadly ovate, diamond-shaped leaves clasp its 6-24 in. stem. Perched 1-4 in. above the leaves is a single, nodding, crimson flower with three petals curved slightly backward. The petals wither in 2-3 weeks, leaving a fleshy, berry-like fruit.

This is one of the most common eastern Trilliums. Its foul smell attracts carrion flies that act as pollinators. Early herbalists used this ill-scented plant to treat gangrene, since, according to the Doctrine of Signatures, plants were used to cure the ailments they resembled. As the genus name suggests, the floral parts and leaves of these perennials are arranged in 3's or multiples of 3, typical of the Lily family. Vasey's Wakerobin (T. vaseyi), of the southern Appalachians, is larger in all respects and has pleasant-smelling flowers.


From the Image Gallery

49 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Fruit Type: Berry
Size Notes: Up to about 2 feet tall.
Fruit: Dark maroon.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Red , Yellow , Purple , Brown
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Maroon, reddish brown, purple or white, sometimes pale yellow.


USA: AL , CT , DE , GA , IL , IN , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WV
Canada: NB , NS , ON , PE , QC
Native Distribution: N.B. to s. Ont. & e. WI, s. to n. DE, PA & KY; also mts. to GA & AL
Native Habitat: Rich woods

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
Soil Description: Humus-rich soils.
Conditions Comments: This species must be grown in an area where the plant will receive ample sun in early spring.


Use Wildlife: Birds and mammals eat the berries.
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.)
Use Medicinal: Early herbalists used this ill-scented plant to treat gangrene, since, according to the Doctrine of Signatures, plants were used to cure the ailments they resembled. (Niering)
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

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Pictures and sources for black trilliums
June 10, 2008
Do you have pictures and/or sources for Black Trilliums?
view the full question and answer

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:

Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
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 erectum in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Trillium erectum in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Trillium erectum


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

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