Monday, April 16, 2012

Trout Lilies

Trout Lilies
© Dave Spier

Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) are early-blooming woodland wildflowers. They're rather small, but showy, with a single, nodding, yellow flower on a stalk between two lance-shaped basal leaves. The plant's name refers to the brown mottling on the green leaves. Apparently it reminded someone of the spots on a trout. The alternate name is Fawn Lily for a similar reason. Another common name is botanically misleading and I'd prefer it evaporate from the vernacular.

What looks like six petals (typical of lilies) are technically three yellow petals plus three tepals that are tan on the back. Trout Lilies grow in communal patches but you might have to search for a blossom. It takes three to six years for plants to mature and then only a small percentage produce a blossom in any given spring.

The underground part of the plant is called a corm, but unlike a tulip "bulb," it is small and narrow. In an emergency, the corms can be boiled and eaten as survival food, but it takes a lot of them and destroys the plants in the process. It's too late now, but the young leaves also can be boiled and eaten. A word of caution, though - some people react to this plant by throwing up, so you might want to rethink eating them.

Trout Lilies reproduce by dividing the corms and, secondly, by producing seeds with oily bumps that ants love. The seeds are then unintentionally dispersed by the ants.

There is a crude range map on the USDA website. It's essentially the eastern half of Canada and the United States north of Florida.

Lilies are monocotyledons (meaning one seed leaf) and all monocots have parallel-veined leaves. Grasses, orchids and palms are other examples.

Corrections, comments and questions are always welcome at or connect through my Facebook page and photo page. There's also a community-type page for The Northeast Naturalist. Other nature and geology topics can be found on the parallel blogs Adirondack Naturalist and Heading Out.

No comments: