Wake Robin (Trillium)

Trillium sessile


Photo of wake robin, or trillium, plant with leaves and flower
Julianna Schroeder

Liliaceae (lilies); also placed in Melanthiaceae (bunchflowers) and Trilliaceae (trilliums)


Flowers solitary, arising stemless from a whorl of leaves. Colors variable: brown, brown-purple, maroon, brick-red, brownish-yellow, greenish-yellow, greenish, or a mixture with green. Flower with 3 sepals and 3 petals; upright; to about 2 inches tall. Blooms April-June. Leaves 3 in a whorl, topping a bare stalk to 1 foot tall, ovate, pointed, sessile (lacking leaf stalks), dark green with or without grayish mottling. Root a short rhizome. Fruits many-seeded berries.

Missouri has 7 species in the genus Trillium. Purple trillium (T. recurvatum) is similar to T. sessile, but the sepals curve downward as the flower opens, and the leaves have a distinct, short stem; it is the most common trillium in eastern Missouri. Green trillium (T. viride) is taller, with sepals spread outward; petals erect, to 3 inches long, green or yellow; leaves broadly lance-shaped or nearly round, green or mottled; common in southwestern and east-central Missouri.


Height: 8-12 inches.


Photo of an abnormal, four-parted wake robin, or trillium, plant with flowers
Wake Robin (Trillium) Abnormal, Four-Parted Plant

Early Growth Trillium

Early Growth Trillium
Early Growth Trillium
Early Growth Trillium in Cape Girardeau County

Wake Robin in Eureka MO

Wake Robin in Eureka MO
Wake Robin in Eureka MO
Wake Robin in Eureka MO

Wake Robin Trillium-20200408-80808.jpg

Three rusty red petals rise up from a base of three broad leaves
Wake Robin in Franklin County
Habitat and conservation

Wooded slopes and bottomlands in moist, rich soil. Trilliums are popular in shade gardens but are difficult to grow from seed. This has led to unethical collecting from the wild. However, many plants do not survive transplanting. Please be aware of the sources for your plants, and insist on nursery-grown plants from cultivated stocks.

Distribution in Missouri

Statewide; common in all but the northern third of the state; apparently absent from the Mississippi Lowlands of the Bootheel.


Common names include “wake robin,” “trillium” and “toadshade.” “Trillium,” of course, matches the genus name, the same way the names “geranium,” “iris,” and “forsythia” do.

Human connections

Some species of trilliums were used historically in herbal medicine, but the most common human use of these flowers is in gardening. Please don’t collect from the wild, however. Instead, buy nursery-cultivated plants from reputable sellers.

Ecosystem connections

The flowers of this species have a fetid aroma, presumably to attract flies and other such pollinators.