“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life. ” ~ John Burroughs
As the earth warms in April and the brisk winds still blow, I can be found laying down or crawling on the meadow floor in search of the spotted leaves of Trout Lily…looking for the flower budding and busting open like a lantern with its exotic flower. I fell in love with this plant when it was a mass of spotted leaves in my old garden…never blooming but making a beautiful ground cover beneath an American Basswood tree.
Yellow trout-lily, Erythronium americanum, is known as a spring ephemeral and harbinger of spring. These wildflowers are here and gone before you know it. You have to be on the lookout for this plant in
early to mid April in the wet deciduous woods as they only grow 5-10 inches above the ground. Once the leaves emerge you must keep a careful watch for the yellow flowers as they track the sun and close at night. The flowers look like tiny lilies only 1-2-inch in size. I was fascinated to see these flowers in my meadow, but that meadow was actually once a moist woods that was cleared for houses to be built.
After learning that it takes 7 years for a plant to flower, I count myself lucky to have these delicate flowers appear in my meadow and a few spots in the back garden. Trout Lilies are pollinated by ants.
Trout Lily has a fascinating seed dispersal mechanism – its seeds are dispersed by ants through a process called myrmecochory (pronounced “mirme ko ko re”). Attached to the outside of the seeds is a fleshy structure called an elaiosome. The elaiosome is rich in oils and proteins. Ants carry the seed to their nest and feed the elaiosome to their larvae. The remaining seed is discarded in the ant’s nutrient-rich waste pile. This symbiotic relationship benefits the ant, which gets a food source, and benefits the plant because the seed is dispersed, is protected from rodents, and is placed in a nutrient rich area in the ants nest where the seed has a greater likelihood of growing. Andy’s northern Ontario Wildflowers
The seed or corm, as they age, will push farther into the ground to well over a foot beneath the soil. An immature plant will have a single leaf, and flowering plants will produce 2 leaves. As they become established they will spread by runners from the corm to where they spread into a wonderful mass. In some areas where the trout lily flourishes in old forests, they have found whole colonies that were anywhere from 150 to 1,300 years old.
Erythronium are part of the lily family (Liliaceae). They can be found throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Carl Linnaeus is said to have given this wildflower its earliest English name, “dogtooth-violet”, named for the European purple flowering variety, Erythronium dens-canis.
Most of the Erythroniums are found in North American, and most flower yellow or white. There are 22 varieties in the US, and most are found out west. E. umbilicatum, is found in the Southeast, usually in Virginia along with the white flowering, E. albidum,which is found along the Potomac River.
The pink flowering, E. propullans, is found only in Minnesota. I would love to grow this and have seen it in pictures. But I will stick with my native yellow flowering variety.
The shape of the leaves are what has inspired the names Trout Lily and Adder’s Tongue. Some say the arch of the leaves or the way the stamens protrude from the flower are what gave it the name Adder’s Tongue.
Naturalist John Burroughs came up with the names “trout-lily” and “fawn-lily” to replace “dog-tooth violet”. Trout lily is said to refer to the brown spots on the leaves that resemble a brook or brown trout. These flowers also come up around trout season. The speckled leaves are also said to resemble a fawn’s spots.
This wildflower can be eaten in foods and used for cures. Some will add it to salads or cook it as an herb although one should use caution here since it may induce vomiting. It has been used in alternative methods of medicine as a contraceptive, diuretic, stimulant, to induce vomiting and reduce fever. As a tea made from root and leaf, it can help with ulcers, tumors and swollen glands. As a poultice made from the leaves and bulb, it can help with wounds to reduce swelling and help with some skin problems.
Trout Lily was listed in the Pharmacopoeia of the United States in the early 1800s. It was used to treat gout. Some feel the properties of the plant may prove to be valuable in the fight to cure cancer.
There is much folklore regarding this plant and its early uses amongst Native Americans.
Cherokee supposedly would:
- chew the root and spit it in the water as they fished to make fish bite.
- warm leaves, crush them and pour the liquid over wounds to heal them.
- use the root to make a concoction to reduce fever.
- create something from the plant to help stop fainting.
Iroquois supposedly would:
- eat the raw plants (not the roots) to prevent conception.
- make a poultice of the roots to treat swellings and to remove slivers.
Language of Flowers
There is no direct meaning attributed to this flower so I will take a bit of license here, and use the meaning of a yellow lily since technically it is a lily. In the language of flowers, a yellow lily means walking on air, happy and gratitude. I find this the perfect meaning of this spring wildflower for when I see it I am indeed walking on air and grateful that it is still blooming in my garden.
I am linking in with [email protected]Elephants Eye for her Diana’s Dozen. Trout Lily is one of my 12 favorite flowers I plan to add more of in my garden this year.
Alights over spotted leaf
Tiny lanterns glow
Don’t forget to enter the seed giveaway. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and include your favorite vegetable to grow or eat. The contest will end this Sunday at 6 pm EST with the winner announced Monday. All seed is packaged for 2011 and 2012. There will be one Grand Prize winner who will receive a bundle of veggie seeds:Beefsteak Tomato Radish Turnip Melon Asparagus Broccoli Cucumber Pumpkin Pea Sweet Pepper
And there will be six runner ups receiving a packet of Beefsteak Tomato seed.
This can only be open to those residing in the US. And to make sure I am compliant with full disclosure, I purchased the seed I am giving away.
Visit my latest post for Beautiful Wildlife Garden to learn more about the Great Backyard Bird Count.
It is great fun.
Next on the Blog: Monday will be my GBBD post as I showcase blossoms from my white garden. I will also be highlighting a bird gardening book as I count my birds in the garden from the 17th to the 20th. And as February ends, I will be continuing my Exploring Colors with favorite purple natives.
As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday. So drop by to check out all the blooms this Friday.
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