Trillium erectum

Trillium erectum, commonly known as red trillium is found within temperated deciduous forests of North America. Red trillium is a member of the Liliaceae or Lily family.

T. erectum located in Goose Pond Forest of Keene, NH.

The species produce berries which are eaten by birds and other mammals. While the berries and roots are toxic to humans if ingested, the young, unfloding leaves can be cooked in boiling salt water and served like any other green. Unfortunately, T. erectum is listed by the U.S. Federal States of Illinois, New York, and Rhode Island as Endangered, Exploitably Vulnerable, and Threatened respectively.

Simple Diamond-Shape Leaf


T. erectum stem will grow anywhere from 6-18″. This makes the vibrant color of its flower eye catching as it lies among the greenery and debris on the forest floor.The crimson flower with three slightly curved petals lays 1-4″ above the whorl of simple diamond-shaped leaves. The color of this monocot herb may not be the only thing to grab you attention.




If the beautiful color does not bring attention to T. erectum its smell certianly will. A few other common names include Stinking Benjamin and Wet Dog Trillium. The names give reference to the odor the plant emits when in bloom. In early herbology, this species was used to treat gangrene due to former beleif that plants were used to cure the ailment they resemble. The putrid smell is emited during the blooming season from April to June. The smell attract carrion flies who act as pollinators.

The genetic vatiation in T. erectum is dependent upon individual’s location due to historical factors.  An artical in the Canadian Journal of Botany on T. erectum’s genetic profile gives evidence to the species possessing a limited contemporary gene flow within populations. Northern populations tend to be less genetically diverse than southern popuations due to factors such as density, self-fertilization, and seed dispersal.

T. erectum has been used a model organism for a variety of studies on forest perennials. Steven B. Broyles et al. published an article in the American Journal of Botany exploring a method for determining the effect of ecological processes on the age structure of forest perennials. Using T. erectum as a model organism, Broyles found that forest perennials are difficult to age using rhizomes because of the rot that occurs over each year. Thus rhizomes can only be used to study the early demographic aging stages of forest perennials and that for other life stages other ecological processes must be used.

Phenology also plays a role in some growth stages of Trillium. The tree leaf phenology inparticular effects the time between initiation of leaf expansion, allowing energy capture, and canopy closure. T. erectum needs ample sunlight during the early spring, but grows bests in part shade. The time between initiation and canopy closure is shorter in the northeast compared to the southeast. The determining factor of plant growth is the length of the high light period in early spring.

T.erectum is perticular when it come to the condition of soil where it grows. The soil must be moist and acidic with a pH level of 6.8. Alterations in these conditions can lead to changes in shoot density and height. Calcium levels also play a role in the growth rate and health of T.erectum. White-tailed deers were once thought to impact soil fertility in the Northeast, but researchers Jacob A. Thompson and William E. Sharpe found that it was not only the deer pellets causing a disturbance in Trillium populations. The lack of calcium in the soil also presented an adverse reaction.

The video below produced by DEECEE’S ADVENTURES gives a perfect description on how to identify T. erectum in the wild. As well as some basic facts about the species.