Trillium literally means “three-parted lily,” according to the Armorial Gold Heraldry Symbolism Library. Trillium is a forest wildflower that is part of the lily family, and it is the state flower of Ohio and the provincial flower of Ontario, Canada. Trillium, a foul-smelling flower, is also known as birthroot, wake-robin and Western lily.
Trillium is easily identified by its three-leafed whorl and the solitary three-petaled, variously colored flower that rises out of the leaves’ center. Trillium can grow up to 18 inches tall, and it can bloom in solid white, yellow, pink, red or purple, as well as in mottled mixtures of these colors.
Trillium is a wildflower found in the Himalayas and North America. According to the USDA website, in North America trillium is found from Georgia all the way up through eastern Canada. One variety, the painted trillium, is on the endangered, threatened or “exploitably vulnerable” list in Kentucky, Michigan, New York and Ohio.
White trillium flowers often change color after pollination or as they age, but this is not always the case. White trillium can symbolize the Christian Trinity, a doctrine stating that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one being. Picking white trillium off a mountain is said to bring rain, and the flower often symbolizes purity, beauty or recovery.
Calling trillium birthroot highlights the flower's healing capabilities. Trillium’s root is used in natural medicine for a wide array of ailments. Most notably, indigenous North Americans have used this “birthroot” as a birthing aid.
Trillium is commonly known as wake-robin (or wakerobin) because it blooms in early spring. The particular trillium most often called wake-robin is native to the Southeastern United States, has yellow-green petals and, strangely enough, typically does not bloom until mid-spring.