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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Trillium recurvatum Beck

Liliaceae (Lily Family)

Common Name:

red trillium, prairie trillium, bloody butcher


Red trillium is a perennial native herb found in southern upland and lowland woods. It was a common trillium of southern oak savannas but, like the savannas, is now relatively rare. It grows from shallow rhizomes, often in large colonies, and can survive some disturbance.

Like all trilliums, it has three whorled leaves, and solitary flowers with three petals and three sepals.  The leaves of red trillium are mottled and are attached to the stem with short petioles.  The flowers are sessile with blood red petals that curve up and inward.  The sepals are bent downward, or “recurved”.  The flowers are 2-3 cm across, and bloom from mid-April until June.  The flowers are much smaller than those of the common white trillium, T. grandiflorum, which blooms later.

The similar Toad Trillium (T. sessile) also has red flowers and mottled leaves.  The leaves of T. sessile are sessile and the sepals are bent upward or horizontal, but never recurved.  T. sessile is known only south and east of Wisconsin.

All trilliums suffer from picking, since one generally picks the leaves and no part remains to nourish the underground portions of the plant.

  • Origin of the name: Trillium, L. trillix, three; recurvatum, recurved or bent backward
  • Range:  Eastern US, from WI east to PA and VA, south to TX, LA
  • WI Range:  South only; north to Green and Milwaukee Counties
  • Common associates:  Red oak, basswood, American elm, trout lily, false rue anemone
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FACU-
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 5 (S&W), C = 8 (MI)
  • A Special Concern species in WI; State Threatened in Michigan
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