Monday, April 20, 2015

Trout Lily

Trout lilies (Erythronium albidum) - Photo by Linda  Ellis
There is always a sadness in the passing of the spring ephemeral wildflowers.  Trout lilies are losing their blossoms this time of year, leaving just their mottled leaves and tubers to gather energy for the next blooming season.  We have both yellow and white species but that is just the beginning of the family.

Trout-like speckling of the leaves
There are 20-30 species of trout lilies in the Erythronium genus.  Their name "trout lily" comes from the mottled appearance of their trout-shaped leaves, a defining feature which persists into the summer.  They are also called dog toothed violets because of the shape of the tubers - long, pointed, off-white and shiny, although they in no way resemble a violet.

The yellow petals belong to E. rostratum, a species found in the south-central US.  This is the only Erythronium species with erect rather than nodding flowers as are seen below.  Their habitat, "Mesic woods, often in flood plains and along waterways, also on shaded lower ledges of bluffs," perfectly describes the areas where we find them carpeting the forest floor.

The common white flowered species in Missouri are Erythronium albidum.  These are perennial with a small corm (tuber) several centimeters underground that can send out stolons to produce more plants until they cover the ground, looking like the pool of trout at the hatchery.  They, like many other plants that grow in shaded moist areas, are threatened by invasive garlic mustard.

The leaves are said to be edible and the corms supposedly have a cucumber taste.  Why you would destroy a beautiful little plant for a tiny corm is beyond me, especially when they go on to say that "Trout lilies are an emetic (makes you throw up), therefore it is recommended not to eat mass quantities of these in one day."  To me emetic and edible don't belong in the same sentence.

The trout lily flower has six petals - except when it has eight as explained in a future blog.

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