Most wildflower enthusiasts are familiar with the Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflora [Michaux] Salisbury), which is also Ohio’s state wildflower. However, there is a similar but smaller Trillium species that is also native to this area. That species is the Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale Riddell).
Snow Trilliums are members of the Subclass Liliidae, the Superorder Lilianae, the Order Liliales, the Family Melanthiaceae, and the Tribe Parideae. There is no subfamily listed for this species. Some earlier references list this plant in the Family Liliaceaeor in the Family Trilliaceae.
The generic name, Trillium, is from the Latin words tres or tri, which is “3”, because most parts of this plants are in 3’s; and lilium, which is “lily”; or from liliaceous, which is “funnel-shaped flower”, which is the shape of the flower. The specific epithet, nivale, is from the Latin word, nivalis, which is “snowy” or “of the snow”, because the flower may bloom while there is still snow upon the ground.
Other common names for this plant are Dwarf Trillium, Dwarf White Trillium, Dwarf Snow Trillium, Dwarf Snow Wake-robin, and Little Snow Trillium.
DESCRIPTION OF THE SNOW TRILLIUM
Height: Its height is 1-6 inches. Its height increases after flowering. It is the shortest of the Trillium species.
Stem: Its stem is simple, stout, erect, and unbranched. It is light green with a reddish brown tint.
Leaves: Its leaves are simple and 3-whorled. Each leaf is about 1-2½ inches long, about 1¼ inches wide, bluish- or gray-green, narrowly oval or elliptic, has a blunt or a rounded tip, and has an entire margin. The leaves each have 3-5 prominent parallel veins. These leaves are actually bracts. Its petiole is ¼-½ inches long. White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) may eat these leaves.
Flowers: Its flowers are solitary, erect or arching, about 2-3 inches wide, and are located at the top of the plant. The flower stalk is about ½-1 inch long. Each flower is radially symmetrical and has 3 spreading, elliptical or oval, white petals with pink bases and wavy margins; 3 blue-green, short, narrow or lanceolate sepals with reddish or yellowish outer surfaces; 6 stamens with long, straight, slender, and pale yellow anthers; and 1 pistil with a 3-celled ovary, a 3-parted style, and a spreading and curled stigma. Bees (Superfamily Apoidea) pollinate these flowers. All flowering parts are attached at the base of the ovary.
This plant produces flowers after its 4th year. These flowers bloom before the other Trillium species and stay in bloom for about 2 weeks. The flowers droop after pollination. Flowering season is February to May.
Fruit: Its fruit is a ¼-½ inch long, rounded or oval, 3-lobed or ribbed, green-white, capsule or berry. This fruit is pulpy and is non-aromatic.
Seeds: Its seeds are brown. They mature around mid-June, before the seeds of other Trilliums.
These seeds are myrmecochrorous. They attract Ants (Family Formicidae), which disperse these seeds. These seeds have fatty elaiosomes that attract the Ants. The Ants eat the elaiosomes and discard the rest of the seed for germination.
Roots: Its root system consists of a thick rootstock; feeder roots; and a short, thick rhizome. This plant can reproduce by its roots to form cloned plant colonies.
Habitats: Its habitats consist of moist rich woods or clearings. They are also found upon cliff ledges. They prefer alkaline soils with limestone or dolomite bedrock. They also prefer open soil and are not found in leaf mold. These plants are good indicators of high quality woodlands.
Range: Its range consists of the North Central States, including the Great Lakes States. It does not include New England. This species was never abundant within its range.
The young, unfolded leaves are edible. They may be boiled for about 10 minutes or they can be eaten raw. However, they become bitter when the flowers appear.
The berries and the roots are emetic. The roots have fixed and volatile oils, tannic acid, the glucoside saponin, and acrid crystalline starches. The dried roots and rhizomes can be boiled in milk and used for treating intestinal disorders.
Because of the plant’s scarcity, this plant should not be harvested. In some areas, it is illegal to harvest this plant.
WILDFLOWERS OF WISCONSIN
By Merel R. Black and Emmet J. Judziewicz
NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION FIELD GUIDE TO WILDFLOWERS OF NORTH AMERICA