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Trillium grandiflorum – Great White Trillium

The ephemerals are intriguing plants; the great white trillium is the most iconic of the North American spring ephemerals.

great white trillium
The great white trillium comes and then is gone.

Trillium grandiflorum earned the common name ‘great white trillium’ because it is the largest and most showy of the native trilliums. I have always been amused that such a small and elegant plant has been tagged as ‘great’ (with a species name grandiflorum to boot). I suspect great white trillium’s ‘greatness’ comes from the spirit it evokes as opposed to the size of its flower.

Native americans chewed its roots for medicinal purposes. Old-timers might call T. grandiflorum ‘wake-robin’, most likely because the trillium sprouted and the robins arrived at relatively the same time every spring. Also known as large-flowered trillium and snow trillium, the great white trillium is native to the woods and cool places of eastern North America.

It is hardy zones 4-8. From Quebec southward to the uplands of Georgia, Trillium grandiflorum is a much-loved harbinger of early spring.

Great white trillium does not tolerate dry soils and the leaves will wither away as soon as it gets warm. The flowers are large for a trillium, up 3″-6″ long and age to pink. The plant itself reaches 8″-12″ or so.

Great white trillium does not transplant easily; this is just as well, as digging wildflowers out of the woods is considered unethical and is illegal in many locales. In addition, it does not grow easily from seed. Look online for specialty growers whose focus is native and rare plants.

Plant great white trillium in moist shady areas that you do not plan to disturb.

Dry soil is unacceptable, and if you can plant it in an area that is rich and humous-laden, you will be rewarded. Great white trillium is wonderful for naturalizing (ants are the primary vector for great white trillium’s seeds).

It is imperative to remember that great white trillium goes dormant in the summer. Don’t dig in areas where it is planted and do not have concern when it goes away after spring.

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