Relict Trillium

Description and biology

Trilliums are attractive spring wildflowers that belong to the lily family. About half a dozen trillium species grace North American woodlands. All trilliums are classified as perennials (plants that live, grow, flower, and produce seeds for three or more consecutive years). These short, erect plants all have leaves and flowers in three parts.

The relict trillium differs from other species in its family in the shape of its slow S–curved stems. Its flowers, which bloom in early spring, range in color from yellow to green to brownish–purple.

Bright red berries, technically called the plant’s fruit, adorn the trillium each autumn. After the fruit matures, the plant dies back to its underground stem.

Habitat and current distribution

This trillium species is found in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, where there are 21 known populations. The largest single site, containing an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 individual plants, is in Aiken and Edge field Counties in South Carolina.

The relict trillium prefers to inhabit mature, moist, undisturbed hardwood forests where the soil has a high organic content.

History and conservation measures

Logging, road construction, and the clearing of forests to create farms and residential areas have all combined to reduce the number of relict trilliums in existence.

These factors continue to threaten remaining trillium habitat. The plant is also threatened by introduced plant species such as Japanese honeysuckle and kudzu, both weedy vines.

While some relict trillium habitat lies on protected land, most is on private land. Some landowners have agreed to cooperate in protecting the plant, but some populations are still at risk. Plans to introduce the relict trillium into protected areas are underway.