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Ephemeral trillium sprouts in early spring

Tiny trillium flowers dot the forest floor in places like Stimpson Family Nature Preserve and Lake Padden Park.
Tiny trillium flowers dot the forest floor in places like Stimpson Family Nature Preserve and Lake Padden Park. The Bellingham Herald

With its delicate white petals and yellow center, trillium ranks among the more precious of the native Northwest spring wildflowers.

Wander the forests of lowland Whatcom County in late March and early April and you’re sure to see trillium blooming near stands of Western red cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir.

They come out so early, you see them blooming before the tree leaves come out.

Abe Lloyd, botanist

“The rest of the forest is stark in the spring, and they’re easy to spot,” said botanist Abe Lloyd, president of the Komo Kulshan chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society and an instructor at Western Washington University.

“They come out so early, you see them blooming before the tree leaves come out,” Lloyd said. “Once the leaves come out, the forest gets really dark and the trillium would not be able to make as much energy.”

Trillium are easy to identify because of their three white petals atop three brilliant green leaves. Lloyd said the flower is massive, relative to the size of its leaves.

“It’d be like an apple tree having a blossom the size of your car,” he said.

Best places to see trillium are Stimpson Family Nature Reserve and Lake Padden Park. The petals change from white to a purplish by early June, and then vanish until the next spring.

Trillium are protected for their beauty, Lloyd said, not because they are endangered. He discourages hikers from picking or trying to transplant them.

For people interested in having trillium in their garden, they can be purchased at the local native plant society’s annual spring sale. Watch the website at wnpskoma.org for details.

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