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Western white trillium. Photo courtesy National Park Service

Trilliums love redwoods

Early spring is more subdued in the redwood forests than it is in the Rogue Valley, where colorful flowers are popping everywhere you look. In the damp and shady woods, only one wildflower was proliferating when I was there in March — the western white trillium.

But, boy, was it ever. They lined trails in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park like those solar torches everyone has in their garden these days. Each redwood tree seemed to have its own personal trillium blazing beside it.

I also came across patches of a dozen or more of these early bloomers. Many were wet and droopy but still brilliant, especially in contrast to the earth tones surrounding them.

I’m no botanist, but it’s obvious that these wildflowers thrive in moist climes and that they love to sink their roots into the loose duff of forest floors.

I like that there is some effort involved, then, in finding them. No, you won’t see trilliums swaying in the breeze on the freeway median. You must get off the pavement and into the trees, or you’ll miss these beauties.

Yet seeing them in their natural habitat won’t require an adventure of a lifetime, no distant travel and daring feats. Save that for when you check the Gibraltar campion off your wildflower list — a rare species found only on the high cliffs of that rugged Mediterranean peninsula.

I’ve seen trilliums on Mount Ashland, around Lake of the Woods and in many other places besides the redwoods. Always their presence seems special to me, because I didn’t start noticing them until I arrived in the Northwest.

I have since learned that trilliums do grow back east, where I’m from. In fact, there are well over 40 trillium species, and flower colors include yellow, pink, red, maroon and purple, according to a website at www.gardeningknowhow.com. A common species here, Trillium ovatum, ranges primarily from British Columbia to central California, according to my “Audubon Society Nature Guide to Western Forests.” They also occur in Colorado, Montana and Alberta, Canada.

This same guide book features a photo of one on the cover, promoting it as the signature flower of our western woodlands.

I like that its common name repeats part of its scientific name — again, Trillium ovatum. That makes it easy for an amateur like me to memorize the specialized ID.

Furthermore, the name makes sense — which isn’t the case with, say, the twayblade found in the Sierras. What’s a tway?

“Tri” means three. Accordingly, each trillium plant holds a single white flower with three petals, suspended above a collar of three broad leaves.

The last syllables of its name tell me that I’m looking at some kind of lily every time I admire one.

I even like that the name sounds nice — a run of three musical notes (tril-lee-umm) gliding off the tongue — and conjures pleasantries. In contrast, try saying “death-camas,” “dogbane” or “lousewort” without wincing.

In March, trilliums were basically the whole wildflower show among the redwoods. Now they vie for attention with violets, irises and many other charmers, both subtle and bold.

By May, a shrub — the rhododendron — takes center stage with its clusters of pink flowers.

I wonder if I will ever know the woods well enough so that I could return each year to the most spectacular trillium patches, remembering right where they will be.

Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at talenthouse@charter.net.

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