Red Trillium

Trillium erectum Melanthiaceae

Other names

Purple trillium, wake robin

Growth habit




Native distribution

Native to the Finger Lakes Region, Eastern N. America


A 10-12" tall plant with stalked, dark red, nodding flowers.
Light: shade to part sun
Moisture and Soil: medium moisture, rich soil


Seed Treatment and Storage: Keep seeds moist. Needs warm+moist/cold+moist stratification. It may be 2-3 years until growth appears above ground (first year post germination is underground development); 5-8 years to flower.

Biocultural value

Although it has been recorded that young, unfolding trillium plants can be eaten, these scarce and precious wildflowers should not be gathered for food purposes except in cases of emergency. Trillium roots are highly emetic. The Cherokee used wake robin for everything from bowel complaints and profuse menstruation to asthma and coughs. The Abnaki prescribed ground rhizomes for a variety of pediatric maladies, and the Haudenosaunee combined the underground parts with other plants in a remedy for pimples and sunburn.

The statements above were sourced from:

Fernald, Merritt Lyndon, and Alfred Charles Kinsey Kinsey. 1958. Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Native American Ethnobotany Database: http://naeb.BRIT Native American Ethnobotany

Wildlife value

Because wake robin flowers have the color and appearance of rotting meat, they probably attract flesh flies, carrion beetles, and similar insects. Trillium seeds are dispersed by ants, who take the fruit to their underground homes, eat the flesh (elaiosome) and discard the seed. The foliage is vulnerable to browsing by white-tailed deer.

Climate change sensitivity

Over the period from 1986 to 2015, Trillium erectum bloomed an average of 0.1 days later.


Mundy Wildflower Garden, Groundcover Collection, Coy Glen, McDaniel Meadow, Woods, and Swamp, McLean Bogs, Eames Bog, Purvis Road Wetlands Natural Area, Ringwood Ponds, Tarr-Young Preserve

Source of plant

Longfield Gardens, Roslyn Nursery


Highly variable; stems 15-60 cm tall including the 10-cm-long peduncle. Leaves broadly rhombic-ovate to 17.5-cm-long, sessile. Flowers nearly erect, peduncled, brownish-purple to purple, rarely white, yellow, or green, to 5 cm long, the petals flared outwards from the base, the anthers purple-red like the stigmas but with white pollen.

USDA Hardiness Zone


Special characteristics

This trillium's blood-red flowers produce a mildly unpleasant smell to attract pollinators, hence its other common name, "stinking Benjamin."