Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

Melanthiaceae

Bloody Butcher (Trillium recurvatum)

Why is this clump of Bloody Butchers here? It was blooming in early May in Bird Park, Mount Lebanon—but neither Gray nor the USDA PLANTS database places any wild populations of Trillium recurvatum anywhere in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, or even within two hundred miles. It is a prairie-state plant, almost unknown in Ohio, and not common till Indiana, although (oddly) there is apparently an isolated wild population way over in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Since we first photographed this stand last year, the clump has doubled in size, so it is well established; but there is not another anywhere in the park. Have we discovered another isolated wild population, like the one in Lancaster County? Did someone mistakenly introduce this plant to Bird Park on the assumption that it was a native wildflower? Introduced or not, it is thriving and multiplying, so we have to call it naturalized now.

The Bloody Butcher is similar to the Toadshade (Trillium sessile), which also has mottled leaves and upright mahogany flowers; but the species name recurvatum points out the distinctive feature of this plant: the sepals that curve backward, and the petals that curve back in, making a little enclosed apartment to give the pollinators some privacy. If, however, we have wrongly identified this plant, we trust that the Internet will come to our rescue and correct us.

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 6; 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 tres, 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 sessile; leaves usually mottled.

T. recurvàtum Beck. Leaves contracted at the base into a petiole, ovate, oblong, or obovate; sepals reflexed; petals pointed, the base narrowed into a claw, oblong-lanceolate to -ovate, dark purple; fruit ovoid, strongly winged above, 1.8 cm. long. — Rich woods, O. to Minn., Ark., “Miss.,” and Tenn.


Wake-Robin (Trillium erectum), Yellow Form

This rare greenish-yellow form of the Wake-Robin grew above the Squaw Run in Fox Chapel, where it was blooming at the beginning of May. Wake-Robins are most commonly red, but in Fox Chapel they are almost exclusively white (see pictures here and here); among countless thousands, this was the only yellow clump we found. 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.


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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