Trillium – Red and White

Oh the trilliums!  I love them.  They’re blooming a little earlier this year than last.  Of course the temperature was near 80 several days this week.  Way too hot for April, in my opinion…  So far this spring I have found two species – a red one and a white one.

Red TrilliumRed Trilliums (Trillium erectum) are growing on the steep banks of the creek in the woods where I walk the dog.  The photo at left isn’t the sharpest.  Sometimes I take lousy photos and keep them, just to remember when I first saw a particular species.  (Last year, I found them a week later than this year.)  I went back earlier the next day when the sun would still be shining on the east-facing creekbank and took a closeup:

Red Trillium Closeup

I also found many droopy White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) that could really use some rain.  This specimen, mostly in the shade, was doing fine on Earth Day, except for an infection:

Large-flowered Trillium

Sometimes mutant plants with green striped petals are found in the Trillium grandiflorum species.  These plants are diseased — infected with parasitic mycoplasmas that cause the greening.  As time passes, the mycoplasmas will cause deformity in the petals and eventually the death of the plant.  Although sometimes erroneously prized for this aberrant colouring, these trilliums should be removed before the mycoplasmas can spread to affect an entire colony. (Woodland Plants: The Trillium by Darcie McKelvey – source)

Poor little guy.  The article cited above also tells about the precarious life cycle and life span of trillium.  Seeds need very particular conditions in order to grow.  Once they germinate, it takes seven years or longer before a plant can produce a flower.  Mycoplasmas are not the only enemy:  if deer browse away the leaves, the plant cannot store enough energy to survive and return next year.  They are shade-loving and will not tolerate a clear cut…  So many dangers… and still… once in a while… you find huge patches of them.  Ruth posted this photo last year:

Wow!  I’ve never come across a patch quite that large!

I wrote about these trillium species last year, too:

Perhaps today I’ll go in search of a Painted Trillium…



One of the earliest colorful spring flowers in our area is often mistaken for Dandelion.  Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is an alien wildflower that sends up blossoms long before it sends up leaves.  Because they are in the same family – composites – and because they are yellow, folks often point and say, “Dandelion.”


ColtsfootDon’t let it fool you.  Dandelions bloom from the center of a bunch of leaves.  Also, check the stems… Dandelion has a hollow smooth (or sometimes slightly fuzzy) stem.  Coltsfoot has an interesting scaly stem.

Both Dandelions and Coltsfoot make good Wishing Flowers when they go to seed.  Just pick one, close your eyes and make a wish, then blow the seeds.  Your wish will be carried by the wind into the universe and surely it will come true.

Circle in a Square Coltsfoot Leaf


The latin name Tussilago means cough dispeller and this plant is often used to create cough syrup and cough drops.  The fresh leaves collected in May or June coltsfoot range mapare boiled in water, then strained.  The liquid is sweetened with sugar and cooked until the right consistency.  Dried leaves can be made into tea.  They can also be smoked to alleviate a dry cough and open the lungs…  Hmm…  So “they” say.  Has anyone tried it?

If you’re thinking of trying it, be aware that I found one warning against mistaking Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) leaves for Coltsfoot.  The source didn’t say why…  In fact, another source claims that Butterbur may help prevent migraines, but that’s a story for another day.   Butterbur leaves are similar to Coltsfoot, but the flowers have no rays, come in clusters and may be any color from cream to pink with white anthers.

And one more use for Coltfoot… if the leaves are burned to a black ash and sprinkled on food, they can fool your tongue into thinking you’ve sprinkled salt.


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