By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
In this month’s “Window On Nature” column, we explore the wonderful world of the trillium plant. So, in this column, we’re going to reveal some great spots around the United States and Canada to find these beautiful flowers. In our case, seeing trilliums is usually serendipitous. We may know they’re around (within several hundred miles or so) and have directions to a specific location. But when we’re actually looking at a quilt of trillium blossoms, it seems like a stroke of incredible luck.
1. The geographic range of trilliums
In the East you can find these flowers from Quebec and Maine to Minnesota in the north; south to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana; and down the Blue Ridge mountains to northern Georgia and northeast Alabama. In the West, the trillium range is more limited. Starting in coastal British Columbia, you might see them anywhere on the Pacific coast all the way to central California. On the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, trilliums may appear in Colorado; Montana; and Alberta.
Trilliums grow well in rich, moist woods that are well drained, with a neutral or slightly acidic/basic pH (authorities vary on this one). They are commonly found in shade, but not the dense shade of evergreens. Some species prefer sunshine for part of the day.
Trilliums bloom in the different areas and altitudes anywhere from January to June, with April and May being the most common months.
2. Sipsey Wilderness, Alabama
By definition, a wilderness doesn’t include tour buses, ice cream stops, or, one hopes, trash. This wilderness is characterized by swift streams, waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, undisturbed gorges, majestic hardwood trees, wildflowers, and an abundance of birds and animals — in addition to plentiful trillium plants. Visitors to the Sipsey Wilderness can either drift down the Sipsey River in canoes or hike the trails that lead deep into the wilderness. The trails vary in difficulty. The Sipsey Wilderness is located in the Bankhead National Forest in northwest Alabama. On a map, the area is approximately equidistant between the cities of Moulton to the north and Double Springs to the south.
3. The Pacific coast, from central California north to the Oregon border
There are two prime areas to see trilliums in the Golden State. One is between the coastal mountain range and the Pacific Ocean, hidden in the shady places near the coves and inlets formed by creeks as they reach the ocean. The second is in the stands of redwood forest that line the coast. A redwood forest creates excellent trillium habitat and, according to some, the best in the West. At Mount Tamalpais State Park in the San Francisco Bay area, trilliums grow in moist, shady places along Cataract Trail and Steep Ravine Trail, in Muir Woods National Monument, and in our old stomping grounds, the Arcata Community Forest. In California the trillium blooming season is any time from January through April, depending on the altitude, rainfall, and luck. More trillium hunting areas can be found in Sonoma County, around Lake Sonoma, and in San Mateo County’s Butano State Park. If you’re looking for additional locations to satisfy your trillium curiosity, head out to the Purissima Creek Redwood Preserve or Henry W. Coe State Park. We’ve given you quite a few places to check, but trust us, the effort is worthwhile.
4. Falling Waters State Park, Florida
This park is located approximately 80 miles west of Tallahassee in Chipley, and has its share of trilliums. You’d better do your flower searching first, because the park also holds the state’s only true waterfall. It would be difficult to look for trilliums when you’re watching water plunge 67 feet into a smooth-walled limestone chimney 20 feet wide.
5. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
There is almost too much beauty to see along this Parkway; the aesthetic part of the brain runs on overload. We would certainly agree that trilliums are some of the prettiest of the wildflowers on the forest floor. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see large numbers of them alongside the road. Put on the brakes, park, get out, and enjoy the scenery!
6. Mountains-to-Sea Trail, North Carolina
This trail offers, in addition to hordes of trilliums, some of the most rewarding hiking experiences in the East. The trail stretches from Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, all the way to Jockey’s Ridge, the largest sand dune on the Atlantic Ocean coastline. The nearly 1,000-mile route winds through three national parks, three national forests, seven state parks, two wilderness areas, and two wildlife refuges, as well as farming communities and small towns.
7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
We traveled through this park during the last week of April, and spring was in full flower. Five species of trilliums were in blossom, along with 10 species of violets . . . and on and on. Finley Cane Trail is loaded with nodding trilliums at this time, as are other wildflower spots: Porter’s Creek Trail, the picnic area on Chimney Tops Trail, and the first quarter-mile of the Chestnut Top Trail.
8. Tryon Creek State Park and Natural Area, Oregon
Oregon’s only state park within a major metropolitan area is located just minutes away from downtown Portland. In this 645-acre park, there’s enough room for all. Visitors hike or walk the park’s nature trails; cyclists bike the paved trail; and spring flower watchers stroll down Trillium Trail hoping to catch sight of that particular flower. In addition to the Tryon Creek State Park Visitor Center, you’ll find the Friends of TCSP Nature Store, as well as scheduled nature walks and special events. The park is located just off Interstate 5 (exit 297), Terwilliger Boulevard, in southwest Portland.
9. Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park, Oregon
If you’re driving along the Oregon coast, this park has much to offer. To begin with, it has the second-largest campground in the state and is within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. You may have to ask where to find trilliums, but they’re there. The park is located approximately 3 miles south of Florence along the central Oregon coast.
10. National Forest, Arkansas
The Ozark wake robin (trillium) inhabits a region that includes parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, the Ozark Mountains, and the Ouachita Mountains. Ouachita National Forest boasts more than 600 miles of trails — plenty of opportunities for you to spot these and other spring blossoms. If hiking is not your thing, try driving on one of the two scenic byways that traverse the region.
11. Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, Pennsylvania
The state of Pennsylvania justly claims more than 1,000 native plant species. Not all of them grow in this preserve, but you’ll be amazed at the variety growing there. Included are several trillium species. Snow trillium blossoms can be seen in March, while great-flowered, red, toad, and nodding trilliums are in full bloom in April. More than two dozen trails lead through these beautiful woodlands and bright meadows. On most days you can take a guided tour of the grounds, but if you prefer, you can wander on your own using the free trail map provided by the preserve. Either way, remember to look down. Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve is located at 1635 River Road, Solebury Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
12. G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area, Virginia
The large-flowered trillium (the easiest one to see) grows commonly in rich woods and coves in most counties in the “Valley and Ridge” region of Virginia. In fact, the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area in the northern part of the state, near Linden, may contain the largest Trillium grandiflorum population in North America. In his trail and field notes, naturalist/hiker Bob Pickett wrote about a trip to the area on May 2, 1998: “Wildflowers were the highlight with 43 herbaceous and 8 woody plants found in bloom.” Think of all the trilliums. Think of all the other botanical distractions that would sidetrack your search for trilliums — as though you’d care.
13. California Woods Nature Preserve, Ohio
You would expect this preserve to be in California, but it’s not. California is a neighborhood in eastern Cincinnati, just a few miles west of FMCA’s national headquarters. Numerous wildflowers fill this trail-filled region situated near the Ohio River. We haven’t managed to get there, but the locals claim that you can definitely find plenty of trilliums.