ARS Tasmania Newsletter – October 2020

  • Date: 4th October 2020
  • author: Jenny Skinner


Visitors to Woodbank Gardens in early spring, when they spot the trilliums in bloom, inevitably ask in an awe-struck sort of voice, “What’s that?”. This is usually followed by “What’s a trillium? I’ve never heard of it”. They are probably not even known by their common names which include wakerobin, birthwort and birthroot. There are lots of them. In fact about 50 species, all native to North America and Asia.

At Woodbank there are only 5 or 6 species that I know of: T. chloropetalum, T. albidum, T. ludovicianum, T. grandiflorum and/or T. ovatum and one that was classified as Trillium but now, due to further splitting by plant taxonomists, it has its own monospecific genus Pseudotrillium rivale. We have also come across 2 more flower colours: yellow (but it’s not T. luteum going by the leaf colour and patterning) and a strange yellow and maroon colour that could be a hybrid or just a weird variant. Ken established most of these from seed years ago so there could have been some ring-ins! They all like moist shade but once they find a suitable environment they can form SWATHES! I find the leaves with their mottled brown patterns just as attractive as the flowers. They all grow from a rhizome and have everything in 3’s (hence tri-llium): 3 leaves, or rather leaf-like bracts, 3 outer sepals, 3 inner petals, 2 x 3 stamens and 3 stigmas. They have fleshy structures rich in lipids and proteins attached to their seeds which are then taken by ants back to their nests to feed to the larvae. An interesting seed dispersal mechanism that is used by possibly up to 23,000 species of plants!

Now to the rhododendrons that are starting to show themselves like an entree before the main course in November. My favourite (at the moment) R. macabeanum has recovered from its sulks last year and is covered in spectacular cream blooms. This rhododendron originates in NE India and was named after a Mr McCabe, a former Deputy Commissioner, Naga Hills, near the border between India and Myanmar.