Is Trillium a neglected California native coveted abroad and deserving more attention at home or a multifaceted research subject? The taxonomy is unsettled for sure, propagation protocols are sketchy, nursery suppliers are easier to find in Europe, the UK, Oregon, Washington, and Canada than in California, botanic garden displays are bigger and perhaps more complete in Scotland and England, gardeners in New Zealand and other parts of the world grow more trilliums than Californians, and the market economics are distorted, while native habitat is disappearing.
Trilliums, all parts in multiples of three, are much admired by wildflower enthusiasts and considered harbingers of spring in their native distributions and in gardens nearly worldwide, whether “Toadshade” (sessile types) or “Wake robins” (pedicled types). Despite significant variation in flower shape, size, leaf appearance, fragrance, and petal color, most folks know the California Trilliums as either white or maroon and may not realize there are 5 different species (with 2 or more yet to be “published”?), again depending on the key, flora, or plant list used. But, what about the pinks, reds and yellows; are they hybrids or just species variation?
There is documented research about California’s native Trilliums beginning with Brandt and Goodspeed in 1916 and some current efforts but the reality is there is considerable misinformation, and lore documented in the literature and online. The skeptical observer or investigator has many challenges in order to separate fact from fiction regarding garden or wild culture, propagation, taxonomy, etc. While DNA assessment of the sessile forms of eastern species is functioning well the same processes do not work for the western species. Small wonder one is flummoxed determining a species for a specimen at hand when the ‘experts’ do not agree starting at the family level let alone the species level, where rivale has been assigned a new genus (ed. Note: Pseudotrillium rivale) and the state floras for Oregon and California differ on the nomenclature for the same type specimen.
Russell Graham is building a Trillium gene pool, and has experience with and observations about Trillium to share, including 10+ years of propagation efforts with seed, division, and “tissue culture”. He can provide seed and plants for genetic or taxonomic study and for restoration in the future.
If you have an interest in California Trilliums and you agree it is time to sort out some of these issues, please join Russell, by responding to this plea. Contact Russell (firstname.lastname@example.org ) or CNPS Horticulture Director Susan Krzywicki and indicate your Trillium interests. We will move California’s Trilliums out of the shade of neglect and into the light of attention.