Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

So, as I was saying about Spring 2013 …

Plants can be psychoactive without ingesting them.  For instance, some have uplifting odors.  Lilac.  Balsam fir.  Tea berry.  Mint.  Freshly mowed lawn.  Sometimes just looking at them can do the trick, especially when they show up in greater quantity than in several earlier years at a given place.  It’s like discovering that you had more money in the bank than you knew.  (I’ll leave it to you to think of depressing plants.)

Among the usual spring blooming things, this year Balsamea first showed us maple tree flowers, pussy willow fuzzies, and violets, in that order.

Next came the yellow trout lilies (Erythronium americanum), and they came more than ever.  We’ve always had hundreds of trout lily PLANTS, but very few FLOWERS.  Most of the plants have just one leaf, two to four inches long, on a short stem that barely raises the bottom of the leaf from the ground.  The flowering ones have two leaves.  I’ve read that it can take up to five years for a plant to begin flowering, if ever.  They don’t flower often here, so when they do, it’s special.

This year I noticed about ten flowers scattered along Balsamea’s trails.  This is after a few years of seeing none.

Most likely, Balsamea has had a few flowering ones every year, and I missed them.  This year I’ve been more careful to see what is here, to be present with it, mindful of it, attentive, receptive, aware.  Y’know: om, om on the range.  In my case, om in the woods.

So they are there more when seen.  Then, they show up more than ever just because you’re keen on them.  It is as if you’ve become attuned to their presence.

As with most of our wildflowers growing in the woods, the yellow trout lilies tend to grow within the trails, or near the edges of the paths, where they can get more light than under full cover of the tree canopy.  Many sources report these flowers growing in clusters.  At Balsamea, so far we have no more than one flower within dozens of feet along the trails.  I suspect this may be partly due to the hunger of our local four-footed vegetarians — the same ones who prevent or deter some species of trees from thriving here.  We created this situation by extirpating the big predators.

The trout lily gets its name from the brown mottling pattern on the leaves that could put you in mind of a trout’s skin … if you know trout.  And if you knew trout you would know this without my telling you.

So say hello to one of Balsamea’s earliest flowering plants, the trout lily.  We have only the yellow kind, Erythronium americanum, not the white or pink or lavender in other kinds of trout lilies.  My photos fail to justly represent this delicate flower, so I’ll share these two better examples from Wikimedia Commons:

Left: Public Domain photo by Hagerty Ryan, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Right: Public Domain photo by Kaldari.  Click on pictures for larger views.

Trout lily is a spring ephemeral plant, meaning that it is a perennial that grows and flowers quickly in spring, then it dies back to only underground parts.

The plant is edible, especially the root.  I tried a few leaves.  They say it tastes like chicken.  To me it tasted like a cross between almond and walnut.

This year, being more mindful, I found that the trout lily flower lasts about five days.  Here are some of the Balsameans of the Trout Lily Kind who presented me with that information this year:

I won’t drag you through the tedium of my paraphrased information drawn from authoritative sources about this plant.  Instead, if you want to know more about the trout lily, take a look at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s web page on the yellow trout lily.  It has more information than you and 99% of other readers will ever want to know about wildflowers, and links to many other resources.  Enjoy!

Oh … I almost forgot:  I did find one especially photogenic trout lily here at Balsamea, with a friend aboard.  Sometimes I get lucky with my cheap little camera.  (Click for full size view.)

20130506 Trout Lily Bug 1Copyright © 2013 The Balsamean™

Do you have trout lilies in your neck of the woods?  Want some?
Reply below!

Related article:

  • Growing ( – by Cedar Ring Mama, in her blog about “Taking My Cues from Mother Earth.”  Her exploration of the woods in May cued her fine piece of nature writing with good pictures of many things she found.

3 thoughts on “Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

  1. Pingback: Bunchberry v Painted Trillium | The Balsamean

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