Trillium erectum

stinking benjamin

  • © Richie Steffen / Great Plant Picks

  • © Richard Brown / The Arbor Fund

Outstanding Qualities

Although it is native to the woodlands of the eastern North America, purple trillium is surprisingly well adapted to our Pacific Northwest climate. It has good garden vigor and becomes a significant flowering clump faster than most other trilliums. Its leaves are somewhat oval, widening near the base and tapering to a tip. Above these handsome leaves sit long-stalked flowers with three maroon petals backed by three greenish-purple sepals. Some plants of this species have flowers of white, red or yellow. The odd common name refers to the flowers, which produce a scent that attracts pollinating flies. Note that this species is endangered in some regions, when buying plants, check that they have been nursery grown rather than wild collected.

Quick Facts

Plant Type: perennial

Foliage Type: deciduous

Plant Height: 1 ft. 6 in. (0.46 meters)

Plant Width/Spread: 1 ft. 0 in. (0.30 meters)

Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 to 9

Flower Color: purple

Sun/Light Exposure: light to dappled shade

Water Requirements: regluar watering

Seasonal Interest: spring flowers

Colors & Combos

Great Plant Combinations: This wonderful woodland plant mixes well with other spring bloomers, such as Primula and Pulmonaria. Contrast the foliage with fine-textured ferns.

Great Color Contrasts: burgundy, silver, gold

Great Color Partners: white, variegated, dark green

Culture Notes
Purple trilliums are woodland plants that grow best in light, open, or dappled shade. Ideally, this is a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade or the bright shade beneath deciduous trees or very tall conifers. In too much shade they will not bulk up or flower well, in hot afternoon sun their foliage burns. All trilliums require fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil, and the eastern North American species must have regular additional water during summer. Gardening with trilliums requires patience: young plants can take three to five years to bloom and another five to eight years to develop into a nice clump. But the wait is well worthwhile with these garden gems. Do not remove old flowers but let the seeds develop, ants will disperse them around your garden to start new clumps. Trilliums are poor competitors, so be careful not to plant aggressive plants nearby.