Trout Lily or Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium albidum)

Trout lilies seem to like each other’s company. They grow in large colonies on Ozarkedge. Most plants have but a single leaf, yet there are so many in each colony you can’t begin to count them. It can still be cold in the March and April woods. The trout lilies seem to huddle together, flowers closed tight, preserving their warmth.  But, with a bit of sun, they open their petals—like wings tipped to the suns warmth.  That is a happy sight!

Many leaves and a single bloom of Erythronium albidum

 Latin name/Common namep The Latin name is Erythronium albidum. The word ‘erythronium’ has a Greek root meaning red. This refers to other species within the genus. None of the plants in the southeastern part of the country are red. The common name “Trout Lily” refers to the pretty speckled leaves, which somewhat resembles the scales of a trout. Another common name, “Dogtooth Violet” refers to the shape of the corm.

Bloom Color- Trout lily blooms can be yellow or white. The white variety found on Ozarkedge is Erythronium albidum. The yellow trout lily–Erythronium americanum is known to grow within the Arkansas Ozark Region, but isn’t found on Ozarkedge.

The bloom from Erythronium albidum is charming. Instead of facing you, the shy bloom is found in a nodding position. To appreciate the inside of the flower, the stem must be tipped back.

But, that’s not necessary to appreciate the beauty of the bloom.  The back of the petals is a magnificent mix of gray, slate blue, pink and brown that probably could not be reproduced outside of nature. Underneath, the petals are pale white with bright yellow anthers. I took this picture of the bloom from the top.

The back of the bloom has fascinating layers of slate blue and brownish-pink

Nodding trout lily with earthen tones in yellow, slate, pink and white

Description- Erythronium albidum is not a large plant. The leaves are about 6-7 inches. Each leaf has maroon or brownish speckles on a soft jade green background. The speckled leaves are like snowflakes in that no two are alike. They arise opposite at the base of the flower stalk. They are simple leaves, coming to a tapered point in an oblong shape.

The majority of Trout Lilies in a given colony are single leafed plants and won’t produce a bloom. Those are the juvenile plants. A mature plant will have two leaves and produce one showy bloom.

The bloom is about an inch wide. The flower is soft white with bright yellow anthers. The petals of the flower curve backward. On shady days, the flowers are very shy and refuse to open. In fact, the flowers close each night. It’s best to observe them on a sunny day so they can show off. Take a look at these pictures taken on a sunny day. Also notice the variation in the amount of mottling on the leaves.

Bloom Time- Trout lilies are one of the spring ephemerals. Their beauty is fleeting. They appear early in the spring, bloom and then go back into the earth for the rest of the season. On Ozarkedge, the leaves appear in February, flower buds in early to mid March and full blooms anywhere from mid March to mid April.

Spent blooms in April

The seed pod has formed in early April

 Habitat- Erythronium albidum thrives in a crowd and is found in large masses carpeting the forest floor. They like moisture and tend to grow on gentle slopes in open woods that let in the spring sunshine.

 Propagation- Don’t even try to dig a wild plant–you’ll only kill it trying to get to the deep set corm. It’s not uncommon for the corms be 7 or 8 inches deep! The corms are often in rocky places making digging even riskier. It’s not good practice to dig wild plants anyway, but it’s no problem to collect some of the seed. Unfortunately, Erythronium Albidum does most of its reproduction through corms and some of the seed is not viable. So, if you can get nursery propagated plants for your woodland garden, do it. But, otherwise, it may be best to just enjoy these plants in the wild.

If you want to try to save the seed, wait for 6-8 weeks after flowering. This will give the seed capsules time to ripen. As it ripens, the weight of the capsule increases, causing the scape to tip to the ground. The leaves will be mostly withered or absent at this point, so its necessary to mark the plant when it is in flower.  When ripe, the capsule turns yellow and the seeds inside darken. It’s best to sow the seed right away, as they don’t save well. Saving them for one season may be possible if carefully refrigerated in a sealed container. After the new plants sprout, leave them in their new bed until they become dormant. Then they can be transplanted to the desired location. It will take 3-4 years for the plant to produce a bloom. But, if they are happy, you will start seeing them spread through underground runners with new single leaves appearing each year. You can dig and divide mature plants in your garden–but remember, the corm is deep and easy to injure.

What’s Growing Neaby- Trillium recurvatum is a close companion of Erythronium albidum. Other spring ephemerals growing nearby are Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s Breeches), Cardamine concatenata (Cutleaf Toothwort), Corydalis flavula (Pale Corydalis), Sanginaria canadensis (Bloodroot) and Thalictrum thalictroides (Rue Anenome).

Dicentra Cucullaria19Corydalis flavulaSanguinaria canadensis

Thalictrum thalictroides3Cardamine doublassiTrillium recurvatum

From left to right–Dicentra cucullaria, Corydalis flavula, Sanguinaria canadensis, Thalictrum thalictroides, Cardimine concatenata and Trillium recurvatum.

This picture shows Trout Lilies behind a beautiful Dutchman’s Breeches in heavy bloom.

Interesting Tidbits- Trout lilies can be an important link in the woodland community. The large colonies act as stabilizers for the forest floor and contribute important nutrients to the soil.  Since Trout Lilies tend to reproduce more by corms than seed–they must be in contact with mother plants and tend to have limited ranges. They form vast colonies in suitable habitat, but if they lose the habitat, the plants become endangered because there are few seeds to travel to new sites.

 Erythronium albidum is an important plant for Queen Bees, who need their pollen for food rs in early spring.

Isn’t she graceful?

Endangered List- Erythronium albidum is listed as Threatened in Maryland.