Trillium cernuum (Nodding Trillium)

Plant Info
Also known as: Whip-poor-will Flower
Family:Melanthiaceae (Trillium)
Life cycle:perennial
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):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 3-petals

[photo of flower] 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: Leaf attachment: whorl Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] 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.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Minnesota Native Plant Society

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Itasca Ladyslipper Farm - Native orchids, container grown
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds

More photos

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?

Posted by: Terr - Douglas County
on: 2009-06-05 08:09:11

I was visiting Spruce Hill Park in Douglas County when I came upon a single Nodding Trillium. I thought the three leaves looked somewhat like a Jack in the Pulpit, but when I looked underneith the leaves I was overjoyed to see this beautiful little flower. I did not know what it was at the time. I took several pictures and identified it from your site. Thanks for the info.

Posted by: Karen - Frazee
on: 2009-06-15 15:10:18

I have found one just off our logging road to our back acreage north of Frazee, Minnesota. I thought it might be a regular trillium until I found the flower underneath. What a wonderful find to add to the oodles of blooming yellow lady slippers just beyond on our wooded hill. I used the Wildflowers of Wisconsin book to identify the plant.

Posted by: Linda - Anoka
on: 2010-05-01 21:55:20

I saw about 6 nodding trilliums today in a small wooded area on the Rum River in Anoka, north of the county library. This is the first year I have noticed nodding trilliums though I have run that area for 20 years and have seen large flowered trilliums. Other flowers in bloom right now: yellow bellwort; anemones; puccoons; yellow & purple violets; prairie smoke is budded out.

Posted by: Kay - Fergus Falls
on: 2010-05-11 19:23:48

I recently came accross one of these flowers in our woods. We live in the backwoods off the Ottertail River. I believe our woods were once the original river bed bottom before Ottertail put in a diversion damn.

Posted by: Sally - Bemidji
on: 2010-05-25 08:05:47

Found one plant in the woods on our property...beautiful. Audubon Guide says it's native to eastern No. Amer.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2010-05-26 15:27:08

The natural range for this trillium goes as far west as the Dakotas and north into Canada.

Posted by: Debi - Backus, MN
on: 2010-06-03 21:26:47

I have these blooming all over on my property. Yes, you have to look underneath the leaves to admire there beauty.

Posted by: Lucy and Dit - Cotton Lake
on: 2010-06-05 11:53:28

Several plants were found amongst snow on the mountain on our property. All were flowering, very tall and beautiful!

Posted by: Nick - St. Clair, Mn
on: 2011-05-20 22:03:49

I found two of these in a woods near my home. I didn't know at the time what they were. I had a feeling it was some kind of trillium. It was very hard to spot and the leaves of three was thing that caught my eye. Beautiful flower.

Posted by: k - Wabasha County- Carley State Park
on: 2011-05-21 13:12:23

I found several of these while hiking at Carley State Park amongst the bluebells.

Posted by: Stacy - William O'Brien State Park
on: 2011-05-23 09:15:05

We saw bunches of them along the river path at William O'Brien State Park this week! Beautiful!! 5/20/2011

Posted by: John - Douglas County
on: 2011-06-01 20:02:18

Walking along the local township road tonight, we saw these beautiful flowers. In full bloom. The road ditch was full of them

Posted by: Luke - St. Louis County, Bardon / Ely Peak area
on: 2011-06-28 11:36:00

Late May /early June shows an abundance of trillia along the Western end of the scenic Skyline Parkway. This has been the highest concentration of this plant that I have ever seen. The woods is covered with them - truly a sight worth the trip.

Posted by: Brian - Chamberlain Woods SNA
on: 2012-04-23 01:04:49

We saw one plant only, in flower, near the top of the bluff that plunges precipitously toward the floodplain forest.

Posted by: Laurie - our woods south of Mankato
on: 2014-05-20 21:08:35

Just about missed these little beauties.

Posted by: Diana - Nine Mile Creek - Bloomington
on: 2014-05-21 12:06:11

Quite of few of these blooming today.

Posted by: cheryl - tony schmidt regional park arden hills mn
on: 2015-05-09 18:42:41

Found several patches of these bloom in today in the woods.

Posted by: Craig - Paynesville MN Eden Lake Township
on: 2015-05-18 16:36:47

I was pleasantly surprised to find a Nodding Trillium growing on the edge of my woodlot and yard while I was pulling Buckthorn. It's an awesome wild flower and I am happy to say I have it on my property. I am going to put a small wire cage around it to protect it.

Posted by: Judy - StoneBridge/Brown's Creek trail, Stillwater
on: 2015-05-22 16:18:22

Saw both the nodding trillium and drooping trillium(I think) along this new trail today Beautiful flowers Also spotted many jack in the pulpits

Posted by: Heather - Proctor
on: 2015-05-22 17:23:26

the other day I discovered on growing in the woods surrounding our house. After a little wandering, I had never seen one before, so I immediately Googled it to see what they were. Such a delicate and pretty flower.

Posted by: Kelly - Near northshore of Duluth
on: 2015-06-05 16:31:38

The city of Duluth came through our property and made some large clearings in the woods for utility work. There is one area that has a stream running through it. I was walking through to see what spring windflowers might erup, because the area now gets a lot of sun. I was so excited to see a small field of Nodding Trillium. This is the first time I have ever seen them in our woods.

Posted by: Lisa - Hibbing
on: 2015-06-05 21:26:11

My husband and I noticed today a new plant growing next to one of our maples in the back yard. We did some research and found it to be the Nodding Trillium. We have never seen this plant and it sure it pretty! I'm glad it's a perennial, and I hope it spreads!

Posted by: Dorothy - Harris Township, Itasca County
on: 2015-06-11 13:59:52

Found these along the wooded fence line between fields on our farm near Grand Rapids last two weeks.

Posted by: Andrea K - Duluth
on: 2016-05-05 15:05:31

These can be found in Chester Creek park in central Duluth. A beautiful park with several waterfalls. I spotted several up on a high ridge.

Posted by: Karen - Lebonan Hills Regional Park, Dakota County
on: 2016-05-06 16:44:48

Walking along a trail in a wood/forest close to a lake and near a cluster of Jack In The Pulpit plants were a cluster of Nodding Trillium. Dakota County, Minnesota

Posted by: Mathew - Edina
on: 2016-05-06 20:35:21

Found 1 blooming plant in Bredesen Park along the walking path.

Posted by: Laurie - Checkerboard Park in North Branch
on: 2016-05-16 06:44:06

Came across this one while geocaching near the Dog Park. I have a couple of photos to share if interested.

Posted by: Connie - St Mary's Lake, Eveleth, MN
on: 2016-05-17 12:06:37

Grows in single spots in my yard and in my neighbors. Just starting to produce flowers, but not open yet. My favorite wild flower.

Posted by: Marisa - Lake County
on: 2016-05-31 09:53:09

Saw tons of these plants yesterday in the woods north of Two Harbors, most not blooming quite yet. I've seen them later in the season (the fruit or seed pod, not sure what you'd call it) - had not seen their pretty flowers before. Thanks with the help ID'ing them!

Posted by: Victoria - Barnum
on: 2016-06-03 15:13:21

We have lived here for 27 years and this is the first time we've ever seen them! They are in our roadside ditch - probably at least 20 that we've seen so far!

Posted by: Chris H - Devil Track Wildflower Sanctuary outside Grand Marais
on: 2017-05-29 14:00:31

Just stating to bloom along many parts of the trails

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.