Why you should never pick these pretty forest flowers

March 23, 2018, 8:28 a.m.

Spring is springing up all over the place! As the weather warms, forests are a-bloom with wildflowers. Walking down the trails and through the understory, a hiker may spot the bright petals of trillium, also known as wake-robin or birthwort.

This perennial flower is native to temperate regions of North America and can be found in many places across the United States, from the Northwest to the Southeast.

But if you stumble across a trillium flower and are tempted to put in a vase at home, please don't. It's better to leave it be.

Trillium may be widespread, but it's a sensitive plant. It spreads using underground rhizomes, and each plant sends up just one, or maybe two, flowers. Picking the flower can thus kill the entire plant, or injure it to the point that it can take years for it to recover and bloom again.

In fact, in some areas — including Michigan, Minnesota and New York — there are laws against picking or disturbing trillium. Some species are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

When left alone, some plants can live for up to 25 years.

Other facts about trillium:

  • Ants, flies and beetles are important seed dispersers for trillium plants
  • Some species of trillium have a medicinal use as a uterine stimulant, thus the inspiration for the name "birthwort"
  • The common name of "wake robin" comes from the flowers arrival in early spring, around the same time robins appear
  • Red trillium is also known as "Stinking Benjamin" due to the unpleasant odor of the flower
  • White trillium is the official wildflower of Ohio, and is also the official flower of the Canadian province of Ontario

Related on MNN: Celebrate the spring equinox with this majestic time-lapse of blooming flowers!