Trillium cernuum (Nodding Trillium)
|Also known as:||Whip-poor-will Flower|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade; acidic woods|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||8 to 20 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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A single flower hangs down at the end of a stem ½ to 1½ inches long. Flowers are about 1½ inches across and have 3 white petals and 3 green sepals almost as long as the petals. The petals and sepals both curve up, with the petals usually curving more strongly. There are 6 stamens with pinkish purple tips (anthers) that hang down from the center. The anther is typically about half the length of the stamen.
Leaves and stem:
A whorl of 3 leaves is at the top of the otherwise naked main stem. Each leaf is broadly oval to diamond-shaped, up to 4 inches long and wide with a sharply pointed tip. The leaf edges are wavy but otherwise smooth.
It is very easy to miss these flowers because the leaves tend to drape over them, hiding them from view. When I went out looking for them, I had to lift up the leaves to see if flowers were there and found flowers only on the tallest plants. There is a similar species, Drooping Trillium (T. flexipes). Various references mention that the length of the flower stalk or anthers, the degree the petals curve, the degree the flower angles, size of the leaves, or other differences can help in differentiating the 2 species but there is much overlap in all those respects. I used to believe the color of the anthers was the best way (Drooping Trillium usually has creamy anthers) but have found that is not reliable, either (sigh). General rule: if the flower is below the leaves and it has pinkish purple anthers, it's Nodding Trillium, but location in the state can help ID it as well, as Drooping Trillium is far less common. At one time Trillium was in its own Trilliaceae family, then moved to the Liliaceae (Lily) family, and is now back in its own family, renamed Melanthiaceae.
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Photos by K. Chayka taken at Vadnais/Snail Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County, and in Anoka County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?