Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Southern Nodding Trillium - Trillium rugelii   Rendle
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Section 5 » Order Liliales » Family Trilliaceae
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AuthorRendle
DistributionOccurs throughout the central and southern mountains, as far north as Avery County. Present in the western half of the Piedmont, but scattered and mainly found in the southwestern portions; ranges eastward sparingly to Guilford, Randolph, and Richmond counties, with a sight report as far east as Vance County.

This is a Southern Appalachian species, found from central NC west to central TN, and south only to the central portions of GA and AL. Apparently restricted to just five states -- NC, TN, SC, GA, and AL. This species is very closely allied to the similar (and formerly considered conspecific Trillium cernuum), which is a Northern species occurring south only to northern VA.
AbundanceThough widespread in the western part of the state, it is generally uncommon in the mountains and not nearly as frequently found there as several others in the genus, such as T. erectum and T. grandiflorum, and locally by others such as T. luteum. It can be locally quite common, where found. In the Piedmont, it is rare to locally uncommon in the southwestern quarter of the province, and generally rare and local farther east. Though there are records for 29 counties (on the map below), this is a Watch List species as considered by the NC NHP.
HabitatThis is another trillium found primarily, if not almost essentially, over rich, circumneutral soils of hardwood forests. It is a species primarily of Rich Cove Forests in the mountains, and Basic Mesic Forests in the Piedmont. It also can be found in rich floodplain or creekside forests, but where located on circumneutral soil. Certainly, in the Piedmont its presence at a site usually indicates a high-quality natural area and a Basic Mesic Forest; often other rare or scarce species are found at the same site with this trillium.
PhenologyBooms in April and early May, and fruits in June and July.
IdentificationThis is a fairly robust trillium (growing about 1 foot tall) with non-mottled leaves; the green leaves are rhombic in shape and about 4-5 inches long and almost as wide. Each flower, which is white but occasionally may be maroon (though likely not so in NC), is on a fairly short stalk that is strongly curved (bent downward) such that the flower is held beneath the leaves, where it can often be hidden from view at some angles. The three petals are strongly recurved, with the tips often hidden at the leaf base; each petal is about 1.5 inches long and widely elliptic to ovate. The dark purple anthers provide a nice contrast to the white petals. Though there are a good handful of other white-flowered trilliums in the state, this is normally the only one where the flower is so strongly recurved to a position right beneath the bases of the leaves as to "almost hide". Only T. vaseyi has a similar flower form and arrangement; it has maroon petals only, so if you encounter a maroon-petaled trillium with the flower hidden beneath the leaf bases, that species has petals 2 inches long and nearly as wide, with normally white anthers. Check references for other differences, though T. vaseyi is our largest trillium and normally has very large petals that have clearly overlapping bases. The very rare T. flexipes has white flowers and often nodding flowers, but the flower stalk is always 2-3 inches long or longer, whereas T. rugelii has stalks under 2 inches long and strongly downward curved.
Taxonomic CommentsThis species was almost universally included as a part of T. cernuum for most of the last century, not even split out as a variety or subspecies. However, recent work has show these two to be separate species, with allopatric ranges -- a gap of perhaps 150 or more miles between northern NC (T. rugelii) and northern VA (T. cernuum).

Other Common Name(s)Illscented Wake-robin
State RankS3
Global RankG3
State StatusW1
US Status
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