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England: Trilliums, while hard to find, can grow easily in woodland gardens
Trilliums are relatively easy to grow but can be difficult to find at garden centers. - photo by Russ England

Question: I want to plant some native trilliums in a small woodland garden. What is the easiest kind to grow?

Answer: There are several species of native trilliums that are relatively easy to grow.

They are slow growing and not in great demand, thus they are generally not readily available in most garden centers.

I have found that Trillium cuneatum is a good choice for a small shade garden, as it is tolerant of a variety of conditions and has attractive foliage. T. cuneatum is one of several varieties of a group known as sessile trilliums.

The word sessile is derived from the Latin sessilis, which means low-sitting, and refers to the stalkless flower that appears to sit directly on the leaves. The name trillium refers to the arrangement of three leaves — three petals and three sepals — that is common to this group of plants.

One of the sessile trilliums is actually named T. sessile, but if you find a plant so labeled in a nursery it is likely a mislabeled T. cuneatum. These two species look very much alike, but T. cuneatum gets much larger than T. sessile.

The sessile trilliums develop rhisomes, from which they gradually form clumps. They may also produce seeds, but plants grown from seeds take several years to mature.

Toadshade or toad trillium are prevalent common names for the sessile trilliums. The mottled leaves resemble frog or toad skin and one can easily imagine the low spreading leaves as toad umbrellas.

Other common names for these trilliums include sweet Betsy and Beth root. These names are probably offshoots from the older medicinal name of birthroot, which stems from an alleged value in midwifery.

Claims that the roots or rhizomes of trilliums have medicinal value as a stimulant or relaxant are probably exaggerated.

The claims may originate more from religious superstition than actual results, based on the suggestion of the Christian trinity seen in the arrangement of the leaves and flowers.

Russ England is a Master Gardener trained and certified in horticulture and related areas through by the Georgia Cooperative Extension.

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