Sunday, 23 September 2012

Flower Power for Bisexual Pride Day

In June, during my short series on lgbt flags for Pride Month, I briefly mentioned the trillium flower (above) that appears on the Mexican bisexual flag.

Flag of the Ontario Francophones - French-speaking
Canadians - which uses the province's trillium emblem.
The trillium flower has more than one symbolic meaning. Its most popular and significant use at the moment is as the official floral emblem of the Canadian province of Ontario, chosen by an Act of Parliament in 1937. The flower is native to most of the temperate regions of North America and the white trillium adopted by Ontario grows mainly in the eastern region.

In recent years the trillium has been put forward as a symbol for bisexuality. The precise origin of this idea is unknown, but it was certainly in circulation in 1999 when Michael Page, co-founder of, stated on the BiCafe website that the trillium was becoming widely used. Apart from the Mexican bisexual flag (created in 2001) I haven’t found any use of the trillium as a bisexual symbol.

So why should the trillium, a relatively unknown flower, be a suitable symbol for the bisexual community? Perhaps the best reason stems (pardon the pun) from its biological nature. The trillium is a member of the order of plants to which the lily belongs – the Liliales order.

All plants in Liliales have male and female parts on the same flower. The early botanical scientists in the 19th century were the first to coin the word “bisexual” for these flowers. In the following centuries the word began to be used in biology when studies of some animal embryos showed no differentiation in gender.

Early in my Olympic Countdown series I explained how it was chromosomes that determined human gender. In botany no such chromosomal effect to gender development occurs, making the trillium and the other lily species bisexual from the moment of fertilisation. In terms of human development the term that is the best equivalent would be intersexual or bi-gender, both these terms only being used after birth.

It seems to have been first used in relation to human biology in 1804. It began to be used in relation to sexual preference at about the same time as the concept of the modern homosexual was first developed in the 1860s.

The Mexican Bisexual flag
Perhaps the geographical restrictions of the trillium plant to North America and parts of Asia prevents its universal appeal, but there are other bisexual species in the Liliales order around the world that are closely related to the trillium that could be used, perhaps the lily itself.

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