Yellow Trout-lily is a native perennial ephemeral of the early spring woods.
Leaves are lanceolate, green, irregularly mottled (usually with reddish-brown), are basal, about 6 inches long and 2 inches across, and there are usually two on flowering plants and only one on non-flowering plants. Leaves have a smooth waxy surface.
Flowers: The single yellow flowers (but may have a purplish tinge), appear at the top of a flowering stem (a scape) that is 2 to 7 inches high. They are about 1 -1/2 inches long, have 6 petal-like tepals that at maturity, are highly reflexed and the entire head is semi-nodding. They appear before the tree canopy leafs out. The filaments and anthers of the 6 stamens are yellow-orangish and the single style is white with 3 ridges near the tip.
Seed: If a flower matures, an ovoid 3-chambered seed capsule is held erect. Plants die back in summer. The best grouping to view are on the west path between stations 16 to 22. Eloise Butler's thoughts about this plant are given below.
Habitat: The plant forms extensive colonies via stolons sent out from the underground corm. New corms form at the end of those stolons. They form dense groupings of which only a small percentage will flower in any given year. The best location has moist rich loam with dappled spring sunlight and then shade from the tree canopy when the the hot summer sun arrives.
Names: The genus, Erythronium, is Greek and taken from a similar European species. The word is derived from ěrythrŏs, meaning 'red', referring to the mottled spots on the leaves. The species, americanum, refers to America. The author name for the plant classification - ‘Ker Gaul.’ is for John Bellenden Ker Gawler (1764?-1842), English botanist who published several botanical works and edited Edward’s Botanical Register from 1815 to 1824. The common name refers to the leaves being mottled like the sides of a trout. Another common name is Adder’s tongue refers to the same part of the plant as Eloise Butler explains below.
Comparison: There are two species that are similar- White Trout Lily, E. albidum, where the flowers are white and E. propullans, the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily where the flower and plant are similar to the White Trout lily but much smaller, with five tepals, and where the method of bulb propagation is distinctively different.
Notes: Trout lilies are not indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler's records show that she obtained plants of this species on May 19, 1909, on Oct. 7, 1913, and on Sept. 23, 1917 from Gillett's Nursery in Southwick, MA and again on June 4, 1909 from Hawkins, WI. On April 13, 1912 she got plants from Minnehaha Park. Martha Crone planted 20 in May 1945. It has been present in the Garden ever since. The Yellow Trout-lily is native to Minnesota only in counties that border the rivers on the eastern edge of the state, but uncommon. In neighboring Iowa it is on the "Threatened Species" List. In North America Yellow Trout-lily is found from the Mississippi River eastward except for Florida in the U.S. In Canada it is found from Ontario eastward except for Newfoundland.
Eloise Butler wrote: "With the advance of May, Mother Nature’s spinning wheels whir faster and faster, and the earth-carpet - the most lovely product of her looms - is woven with intricate designs of flowers in bewildering profusion. But from them all we single out the dogtooth violet or adder’s tongue (now called Trout Lily) for special admiration. The latter name, due to the tongue-shaped, brown-blotched leaf, is more appropriate, for the plant is a species of lily and of no kin to a violet. It has two shining leaves which spring from a deeply buried bulb. The yellow flowered adder’s tongue (Yellow Trout Lily) is common in the Eastern states. A smaller species (Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily, Erythronium propullans A, Gray) with a rose colored flower is also found in Minnesota. This genus flowers best in alluvial soil." (Published in the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune, May 7, 1911.)
Lore and Uses: While E. americanum is a North American species, there are a number of species of Erythronium world-wide. The leaves are edible, often cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Uses go back to Roman times when fresh leaves, bruised and applied, would be used for relieving the pain of foot sores and corns. Pliny the Elder recorded that you could get purple flowers by soaking the plant root in red wine until it absorbed the red color of the wine. Teas made in combination with Horsetail grass (Equisetum hyemale) were considered good for internal inflammations. The leaves were used as potherbs, and the root as a cooked vegetable, nutritious and sweet, but difficult to dig.
Legend - general: The lily is considered the sacred flower of motherhood. It was the symbol of the goddesses Hera and Juno. Eve’s tears, when she found she was approaching motherhood, caused the lily to grow where they fell.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"