A Volunteer Plant — A Trillium

The past few months have seemed like monsoon season in the Chicago area with record breaking rainfall. When walking through my backyard it sounded like walking on a squishy, wet sponge for the past two months. Mowing the grass was not an option and oh did that grass grow! Reaching almost knee height before we were able to drive the mower without bogging down.

Out of this madness came a pleasant find, a volunteer right smack-dab in the middle of our half acre of grass. If it wasn’t for the distinct shape, I would never have found this volunteer plant….a Trillium. Not just any old wildflower and there were plenty of wildflowers growing in the tall grasses, I found a trillium! A trillium is a woodland herbaceous plant grown from rhizomes and not usually found in suburban gardens. Most well known is the white trillium but the one in my backyard was a deep maroon color. I knew this was a true find for any gardener but what was it doing in my backyard? I didn’t know what I could do to save this unusual plant but I certainly would try.

A Trillium plant grows with no visible leaves, just a skinny stem, 3 bracts and a 3 petal flower.

So, off to the internet to do some research. Wikipedia describes it as:

“Plants of this genus are perennial herbs growing from rhizomes. They produce scapes which are erect and straight in most species. There are three large bracts arranged in a whorl about the scape. There are no true aboveground leaves. There are sometimes scalelike leaves on the underground rhizome. The leaflike bracts are photosynthetic and are sometimes called leaves. The inflorescence is a single flower. There are two subgenera. In T. subg. Trillium the flowers are mostly borne on a short stalk (pedicellate) whereas in T. subg. Phyllantherum the flowers are born directly on the bracts (sessile). The flower has three green or reddish sepals and usually three petals in shades of red, purple, pink, white, yellow, or green. There are six stamens at the center. There are three stigmas that are borne on a very short style, if any. The fruit is fleshy and capsule-like or berrylike. The seeds have large, oily elaiosomes.

Looking further, I discovered that a red trillium is not as common as the better known white trillium but grows all over the norther portion of North America and Asia. A cool weather spring flowering plant, Trillium takes patience to propagate but it can be grown from seed or rhizome. When started from seed, the plant does not show itself until the second spring after planting the seeds. So, it needs to be planted in a protected area where it can stay undisturbed for two years before anything will show for all your efforts. Several sites sell Trillium seeds and rhizomes. You can check Amazon HERE.

Trillium prefer wooded areas and grow best in fertile soil enriched with compost or leaf mold. I decided to try transplanting my trillium into an area closer to the side of my house, near a path meandering around a 150 year old oak tree. That area is well protected, loaded with composting leaves every year, and only gets dappled sunlight during the hottest summer months. Hopefully this area is a trillium sanctuary. I really want this flower to survive.

I started by digging a hole close to the base of a redbud tree growing under the shade of my old oak tree. Wanting to transplant this volunteer plant into an area conducive to keeping it alive and hopefully thriving enough to reproduce, I dug a hole about a foot deep and a foot wide then added some decomposing chopped up leaves. Using a poacher’s spade, a long skinny shovel used for digging up plants, I dug about a gallon sized plug of ground around the trillium trying to not disturb any roots leaving grass and all surrounding plants. Once transplanted, I made sure to water in the trillium and left it to settle. I check it every day to be sure it was not traumatized too much. I don’t know what I’ll do if it starts to falter but I feel like I should keep an eye on it. So far, so good.

Hard to see right now but hopefully this trillium at the base of this redbud will spread its seeds and provide another variation in my shade garden.

Native to woodland habitats the red trillium is a flowering herb grown for medicinal purposes as well as for it’s beautifully unusual shape. I’m hoping this volunteer lasts for years, self seeds more Trillium and improves the look of my shade garden.

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