Trout Lilly Season


There are many possibile explanations as to why Erythronium species are commonly called trout lillies.  The perennials bloom in very early spring about the same time trout season begins. They are  likely to be found growing on the acidic banks of the same turgid streams in which native trout live.  To top it off, their glabrous leaves are slick and mottled like a brook trout.

Trout lilly about to open

Trout lilly about to open


Of the 26 species of trout lilly in North America (there is one other in Eurasia), most grow in the Western United States. Only a very few grow in the East, and only one species grows in Alleghany County: Erythronium umbilicus.

Erythronium is derived from a Greek word meaning red. Umbilicus describes the small depression that forms on the apex of the fruit capsule.  Umbilicus is not readily distinguished from Erythronium Americanum, the other common trout lilly of the East.

That being said, Americanum is apt to spread by underground stems called rhizomes and therefore only a very few of the plants need to flower in a given year. If you happen upon a patch of the “trout leaves” and most have flowers, then it is a very good chance the lilly is umbilicus.

Furthermore, after fertilization an umilicus peduncle (flower stem) will collapse while an americanum will be able to hold the seeds upright. And of course, umbilicus has a “belly button” on the apex of the capsule. Americanum, on the otherhand, is apiculate, which means the capsule has a little point where umbilicus has a depression.

The peduncle of umbilicus collapses when capsule matures.

The peduncle of umbilicus collapses when capsule matures.

Erythronium sp. which propogate by seeds employ a clever trick in the dispersal process. The seeds are coated with an oily, fatty “dressing” so to make them appealing to ants. The ants carry the elaisomes (seeds with coating) to their underground colony. After eating the oils, the ants deposit the left over waste (seed) into the colony’s trash pile, which happens to be nutrient rich (as are most trash piles).

Thus, the trout lilly has ants plant and fertilize its progeny.

Thanks for reading.


One Response to “Trout Lilly Season”

  1. Saw trout lilies on 4/18/09 in South Mountain Reservation in Essex County NJ. Wanted to know more so googled and found your blog. Thanks for the info.

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