Wake Robin (Trillium)

Photo of wake robin, or trillium, plant with leaves and flower
Scientific Name
Trillium sessile
Liliaceae (lilies); also placed in Melanthiaceae (bunchflowers) and Trilliaceae (trilliums)

Flowers solitary, arising stemless from a whorl of leaves. Colors variable: brown, brown-purple, maroon, brick-red, brownish-yellow, greenish-yellow, greenish, or a mixture with green. Flower with 3 sepals and 3 petals; upright; to about 2 inches tall. Blooms April–June. Leaves 3 in a whorl, topping a bare stalk to 1 foot tall, ovate, pointed, sessile (lacking leaf stalks), dark green with or without grayish mottling. Root a short rhizome. Fruits many-seeded berries.

Missouri has 7 species in the genus Trillium. Purple trillium (T. recurvatum) is similar to T. sessile, but the sepals curve downward as the flower opens, and the leaves have a distinct, short stem; it is the most common trillium in eastern Missouri. Green trillium (T. viride) is taller, with sepals spread outward; petals erect, to 3 inches long, green or yellow; leaves broadly lance-shaped or nearly round, green or mottled; common in southwestern and east-central Missouri.


Height: 8–12 inches.

Where To Find

Statewide; common in all but the northern third of the state; apparently absent from the Mississippi Lowlands of the Bootheel.

Wooded slopes and bottomlands in moist, rich soil. Trilliums are popular in shade gardens but are difficult to grow from seed. This has led to unethical collecting from the wild. However, many plants do not survive transplanting. Please be aware of the sources for your plants, and insist on nursery-grown plants from cultivated stocks.

Common names include “wake robin,” “trillium” and “toadshade.” “Trillium,” of course, matches the genus name, the same way the names “geranium,” “iris,” and “forsythia” do.

Some species of trilliums were used historically in herbal medicine, but the most common human use of these flowers is in gardening. Please don’t collect from the wild, however. Instead, buy nursery-cultivated plants from reputable sellers.

The flowers of this species have a fetid aroma, presumably to attract flies and other such pollinators.

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It's hard to believe you could find a place like Rockwoods Reservation in busy west St. Louis County. But it's a sample of the Ozarks right in the middle of the suburbs.
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!