Trout Lily: Wildflower Wednesday

The trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have started to bloom in the Secret Garden. They are plentiful in my current Secret Garden and in the woods of my former home. You would think that a native plant that is so plentiful would be easy to grow, but that’s not so. Well, it grows in the garden well enough, but it can be a shy bloomer.

good blooming patch of trout lilies

When you plant trout lilies, this is what you hope to see.

trout lily leaves only

This is what you often see instead: a whole bunch of single leaved plants.

Note this flowerless patch is naturally occurring in the woods. So it’s not just you. It happens all the time, but the flowering patches are what catch your attention. William Cullina, in The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada speculates that there are two different forms–“one reproducing mostly vegetatively to form carpets of single leaves and seldom flowering, the other forming fewer stolons, emerging later, and producing large, paired leaves and flowers.” But, he adds, “it is hard to say whether these are genetically distinct races or just a reflection of growing conditions.”

good blooming patch of trout lilies

A beautiful flowering patch of trout lilies.

I have dug a flowering plant from our woods and planted it in my garden, and it reverted to a group of single leaved plants.

trout lily at base of peony

I discovered this trout lily growing at the base of a peony the first spring in our new garden.

It has gotten bigger and better every year, and this year there are a bunch of single-leaved plants around it. Are they seed grown from the mother plant, or stoloniferous extensions? I’d have to dig it up to find out. But from my own observations, I’d vote for growing conditions being the deciding factor concerning flowering.

What conditions encourage the trout lily to bloom?

No one knows. Some have speculated that they bloom better in confined spaces, such as when they are growing on top of a rock. Cullina has tried that and says it didn’t seem to make a difference. Perhaps observing the same patch over many years, one would start to develop a theory about it. I am content to let it be one of the mysteries of the plant kingdom. I no longer try to grow them in my garden, but when they show up there, I certainly don’t weed them out. As a matter of fact, there is a large patch of them in our front lawn, under the drip line of the maple that was recently cut down. They are all single-leaved plants, but I wouldn’t expect otherwise since they get mowed every year. No, I don’t try to grow them, I just enjoy them in the woods. I have that luxury.

trout lily leaf detail

Trout lilies get their name from the mottled leaves, which supposedly look like the skin of a trout.

I don’t believe I have ever seen a trout in the flesh–only in the grocery store–so I can’t confirm this. They reputedly bloom when it’s good trout fishing, but I don’t know anything about that either.

trout lily flower closeup

I do know what lilies look like, and the flowers do resemble lilies.

Their other common name is dog-tooth violet. The bulb is supposed to be shaped like a dog’s tooth, but why call it a violet? It’s not violet colored or violet shaped.[Shakes head] Sometimes common names don’t make much sense. I’m sticking with trout lilies.

If you’ve got a blooming patch growing in your garden, please share your secret of success (or confess it’s dumb luck) in the comments. I know rock gardeners who can coax rare alpine treasures into bloom, but have been stumped by trout lilies.
P.S. There’s still time to sign up for Kerry Mendez’s Jaw-Dropping Shrubs webinar, which goes live this Thursday. Remember, even if you can’t watch it live, you will get to download it to watch later. Click here for more details.

Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogosphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”

from Cold Climate Gardening


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