Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

Wake-Robin (Trillium erectum), Red Form

The Wake-Robin comes in several colors; in most of its range the usual color is this beautiful mahogany red, but in the Pittsburgh area white is far more common. This plant grew above the Squaw Run in Fox Chapel, where it was blooming at the beginning of May. Almost all the others of the same species in the Squaw Run valley are white (see pictures here and here); in fact, among countless thousands we found only two clumps of red like this, one of greenish-yellow, and one solitary plant in pink. The odor is described in the Flora of North America as “like a wet dog,” which is unmistakable, and accounts for another common name, Stinking Willie. It’s not a flower to sniff with delight.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

TRÍLLIUM L. WAKE ROBIN. BIRTHROOT. Sepals 3, lanceolate, spreading, herbaceous, persistent. Petals 3, larger, withering in age. Stamens б; anthers linear, on short filaments, adnate. Styles awl-shaped or slender, spreading or recurved above, persistent, stigmatic down the inner side. Seeds ovate, horizontal, several in each cell. — Low perennial herbs, with a stout and simple stem rising from a short and praemorse tuber-like rootstock, bearing at the summit a whorl of 3 ample, commonly broadly ovate, more or less ribbed but netted-veined leaves, and a terminal large flower; in spring. (Name from tree, three; all the parts being in threes.) — Monstrosities are not rare with the calyx and sometimes petals changed to leaves, or the parts of the flower increased in number.

Ovary and fruit 6-angled and more or less winged.

Flower pediceled; connective narrow, not produced; leaves subsessile.

Anthers at anthesis exceeding the stigmas.

T. eréctum L. Leaves very broadly rhombic, shortly acuminate ; peduncle (2—8 cm. long) usually more or less inclined or declínate; petals ovate to lanceolate (18-36 mm. long), brown-purple or often white or greenish or pinkish; stamens exceeding the stout distinct spreading or recurved stigmas; ovary purple; fruit ovoid, 2.5 cm. long, reddish. — Rich woods, e. Que. to Ont., southw. to Pa. and in the mts, to N. C. — Flowers ill-scented.

“The flowers of the purple trillium have a disagreeable odor and a purple-red color something like that of raw meat. The flower has no nectar, and the scent and color seem intended to attract the green carrion flies. The pollen they find in the blossom is quite to their taste, and as there is an abundance of it they cannot help carrying a few grains to the next flower they visit. In late summer a red berry stands stiffly on the stem, in place of the flower, and gives a brighter touch of color to the woods.”

——Alice Mary Dowd, Our Common Wild Flowers of Springtime and Autumn.

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