White trilliums — or are they?

While walking through woods in spring-time, I see white trilliums everywhere.  I decided to identify this species of trillium.  My first identification was White trillium (Trillium grandiflorum).  It’s a “showy” and common white-flowering trillium.

White trillium

That was accurate except . . .  I realized there was another white trillium here, too.  Both flowers were peduncled — they grew with a stalk.

Trillium erectum and T. grandiflorum

However, each trillium seemed to have some subtle differences.  First, the leaves of Trillium grandiflorum were somewhat narrower than the mystery trillium.  Secondly, the leaves came together in the center a bit differently.

Trillium erectum and T. grandiflorum

Next, I compared the flower centers.  The mystery trillium had stamens with gray anthers and pollen while Trillium grandiflorum had yellow anthers and pollen.

Trillium erectum and T. grandiflorum

One of the identifying characteristics for T. grandiflorum is the fact that the flowers turn pink or purplish as they age and die.

White trillium

While searching wildflower field guides, I repeatedly came across a trillium which had a center-of-the-flower look just like the mystery trillium.  This was Trillium erectum which has so many common names that it’s quite confusing.  I chose to use “Wake Robin trillium” when referring to it by a common name.

Wake Robin trillium

I read the description of T. erectum in quite a few field guides.  Two of them gave me the answer I was searching for.  Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide states:  “Flower normally maroon or dark purple, ill scented. . .  A white, scentless variety is found; also rarely yellowish or green.”  Peterson’s Wildflower Field Guide says:  “The maroon or purple flower (rarely yellowish or white) is on a slender stalk above the leaves.”

One final comparison of the two flowers:  Trillium erectum (Wake Robin trillium) has petal edges which are smooth and even.  Trillium grandiflorum (White trillium) has wavy petal edges.

Trillium erectum and T. grandiflorum

So there you have it . . .  two white trilliums . . .  two different species.  The first one below is White trillium (Trillium grandiflorum).

Trillium grandiflorum

And the second white-flowered trillium is Wake Robin trillium (Trillium erectum).

Trillium erectum

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One Response to White trilliums — or are they?

  1. Jerry says:

    I purchased a trillium from Pinnacle Mtn Nursery (NC) last year that they claimed to be T. cernuum – NOT quite. Doing internet research, I found that erectum and cernuum hybridize. Dependent on which species provides the pollen, offspring will have flowers above or below the leaves. Erectum x cernuum produces cernuum-like flowers above the leaves that are white with red tinged petals. Red erectum-like flowers are produced below the leaves with cernuum x erectum. Floral reproductive parts look similar to cernuum. http://michwildflowers.com/liliaceae/3trillium.html and http://michwildflowers.com/liliaceae/4trillium.html

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