Trillium by John Parisi
Trillium are, indeed, a well-known wildflower. As a spring ephemeral, I would bet they are second only to lady’s slippers. First, the name. All trilliums are in the genus Trillium, which according to Merriam-Webster comes from New Latin and is an alteration of the Swedish word ‘trilling’ which means triplet. This refers to the three parts of the flower, the three sepals directly behind the petals as well as three “leaves,” which, technically, aren’t true leaves. Those three big green things are a type of modified leaf known as a bract. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “Morphologically, trillium plants produce no true leaves or stems above ground.” The “stem” is just an extension of the horizontal rhizome and produces tiny, scale-like leaves (cataphylls). The above-ground plant is technically a flowering scape, and the leaf-like structures are bracts subtending (underlying) the flower. “Despite their morphological origins, the bracts have external and internal structure like a leaf, function in photosynthesis, and most authors refer to them as leaves.”