Wildflower of the Week: Giant Trillium

Giant Trillium (Trillium chloropetalum), also known as Giant Wakerobin, is currently in bloom in the Santa Lucia Mountains. This plant is a true California native, inhabiting the coast ranges from Santa Barbara to Siskiyou, as well as the Sierra foothills. It is closely related to, but much larger than, the Western Wakerobin (Trillium ovatum) found in our coastal redwood forests.

Impossible to mistake for anything else, Giant Trillium consists of a robust stalk, rising as much as two feet above the ground, topped by the distinctive three leaves than make a trillium a trillium. The Giant Trillium’s single flower emerges directly from the branching top of the stalk and is not lifted above the leaves on a stalk of its own, as is the case with T. ovatum.


Giant Trillium


The color of the flowers is highly variable. Even in the same patch they may be red, white, yellow, green, or anything in between. They have a sweet, roselike aroma.

Like T. ovatum, Giant Trillium enlarges its patches by spreading rhizomes through the soil and seeks new territory by encasing its seeds in ant-attracting elaiosomes. The ants haul the elaiosomes back to their nests, feast on the elaiosomes, and leave the seeds to germinate in a fresh location.

Trillium roots, or rhizomes, are reputedly toxic, but preparations made from the rhizomes of some trillium species were apparently used to facilitate childbirth and staunch bleeding by some Native American tribes. There does not appear to be any record of T. chloropetalum or T. ovatum being used in this way.

Giant Trillium is slow-growing and long-lived, but is easily crowded out by invasive species. It has, apparently, disappeared from many places where it was once found.

One place where it can still be easily located is along Garzas Creek in Garland Regional Park. Now is the time to go see it and get acquainted.


As seen along Garzas Creek this week


The diminutive T. Ovatum blooming along the South Fork of the Little Sur River


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