Trillium cuneatum
Common Name: wood lily
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Melanthiaceae
Native Range: Southeastern United States
Zone: 5 to 8
Height: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Spread: 0.75 to 1.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Maroon to yellow to orange to reddish-green
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Colorful
Tolerate: Heavy Shade


Easily grown in deep, organically rich, humusy, moist but well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Needs consistent moisture. Apply leaf mulch in fall each year. Rhizomatous plant that can be slow and difficult to propagate from seed. Spreads very gradually if left undisturbed to form clumps.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Trillium cuneatum, commonly known as wood lily or sweet Betsy, is the largest and most vigorous of the sessile trilliums that are native to the eastern U. S. It is typically found in rich woods from Kentucky to North Carolina south to Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

Each plant in the genus Trillium features three leaves in a terminal whorl subtending a solitary flower which is either peduncled (on a stalk) or sessile (stalk absent). Trillium cuneatum is a sessile form. From an underground rhizome, a stout, unbranched, naked stem (technically an extension of the rhizome rather than a true stem) rises in spring to 12-18" tall topped by an apical whorl of three prominently-veined, ovate to egg-shaped leaves (typically to 3-7" long). Each leaf is green, mottled with irregular gray-green blotches. From the center of the leaf whorl emerges a single sessile three-petaled maroon flower during the period of late March-early May. Each flower has three erect, ovate, maroon petals (to 2-3” long) subtended by three smaller green sepals. Flower color is variable, sometimes appearing yellowish bronze or reddish-green. Flowers often have a sweet but faint fragrance (some say reminiscent of bananas), hence the common name of sweet Betsy. Flowers give way to berry-like capsules. Seeds are disbursed by ants. Foliage will usually die to the ground by late summer, particularly if soils are allowed to dry.

Additional common names for this trillium include toad trillium and whippoorwill flower.

Genus name comes from the Latin word tres meaning three in reference to the leaves, petals and sepals all coming in groups of three.

Specific epithet comes from the Latin word cuneatus meaning wedge shaped) in probable reference to the shape of the leaf base.


No serious insect or disease problems. Watch for slugs and snails. Potential disease problems include leaf spot, smut and rust. This flower does not transplant well.

Garden Uses

Woodland gardens and moist shady borders. Shady areas of rock gardens. Native plant gardens.