A harbinger of spring around here is a wildflower called red trillium (Trillium erectum). Ages ago, people called it wake-robin, because it appears just as the first robins arrive in spring.
It’s an elegant plant, whose single flower has three maroon-red petals that droop toward the ground, making it hard to spot from above. It grows in most of the eastern states and provinces, some of which have given it protected status, so check before you attempt to transplant it.
The color mimics the appearance of rotting meat, as does its gamy scent. Called “stinking Benjamin,” the plant attracts carrion flies, insects that normally lay their eggs in rotting meat, which pollinate the flowers. Once again, fair is foul and foul is fair.
But why “Benjamin”? It turns out to be a corruption of the word “benzoin,” or “benjoin,” a substance found in Southeast Asia and used in the manufacture of perfumes. Another evocative name for the plant is “wet dog trillium.” It’s not a strong odor; rather a faint whiff of eau de dump. The trick is to keep your nose at a safe distance. That way, stinking Benjamin can be one of the fairest flowers of the spring.