Nothin’ but Trout Lilies — 2016-03-09

When Walter Ezell and I decided to visit one of my favorite state Heritage Preserves — Eva Chandler Heritage Preserve — in upper Greenville County, South Carolina, I was expecting to see not only Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lily also known as Dog-tooth Violet in flower, but also several actual Violet species. But, we were too early for the Violets. The only wildflowers we saw were the beautiful, yellow Trout Lilies. Since this blog entry covers only a single species, I have decided to go into some detail about the plants.

Dimpled Trout Lily
Dimpled Trout Lily

First, let’s examine the common names:

Dimpled Trout Lily. The name, “dimpled” comes from the depression or dimple that appears at the end of the fruit or seed capsule. Here is an image of the dimpled fruit:

Dimpled Trout Lily in fruit in mid-April

The name, “trout lily” comes from the resemblance of the pattern on the leaf to the pattern on one of our native trout species, the Brook Trout. This pattern can be seen at the website, dnr2.Maryland.gov.

Dog-tooth Violet: First, this is not a Violet or Viola species. Common names are based on the impression a particular plant or flower makes on the person who comes up with a common name. However the term, “dog-tooth”, is accurate. It refers to the small bulb-like corm from which the plant grows. It does resemble a dog’s tooth. Here is an image of a complete flowering plant showing the corm and a quarter-dollar for scale:

Dog-tooth Violet plant

This is one of the earliest spring ephemerals (plants that bloom quickly during the early spring) to flower in our area. I’ve seen them in flower in mid-February, but the flowers do not last very long. The leaves will remain in pretty good shape until the fruit is ripe in mid-May. Although there are a few field guides that recommend harvesting the tooth-shaped corms for their sweet early-season flavor (I don’t recommend doing that at all), there are more that recommend them as a drug to induce vomiting, and even as a cure for gout. Perhaps for that second reason, even the deer seem to leave them alone…

In almost every population of Trout Lilies I’ve seen, there are many tiny, single leaves. Here are a couple of shots of single-leaf, immature Trout Lily plants with a quarter-dollar for scale:

Immature, single-leaf Trout Lily plants

Immature, single-leaf Trout Lily plants

The plant will produce only a single leaf for several years before it is robust enough to produce a flower. Seeing immature plants is a good sign that the population is doing well.

At this particular site, the plants are widely scattered as single plants and small groups. In some other southeastern locations, however, the plants form mats of plants, almost becoming a ground cover. Here is an image I took a few years ago in southern Georgia:

Ground cover of Trout Lilies

When we initially entered the preserve, I saw several blooming plants next to the trail, but they were all in bright sunlight and a challenge to photograph. The trail’s meandering leads it next to a small stream which has created a channel that is about 5 feet (1.5 meters) below the flood plain. As I approached the edge of the stream bed, I could see many Trout Lilies growing in the mosses which were shaded by stream-side trees. I knew this setting would be very photogenic, so I carefully climbed down the embankment and set up my tripod at the edge of the stream. Here are some of the shots we recorded at this site:

Trout Llly

Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily
Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily

Dimpled Trout Lily

Dimpled Trout Lily

Although many hundreds of plants were in full flower, we saw a good number of plants in bud:

Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily

We finally made to the end of the trail where we found more plants between the stream and the trail. Here, I found one that was almost front-facing — very unusual for this species:

Dimpled Trout Lily

These flowers are even interesting from directly above. From this perspective, one can see the differences in the sepals (darker) and the petals:

Dimpled Trout Lily from above

This early taste of spring wildflowers has my juices flowing! The annual renewal of life has always brought joy and pleasure to all wildflower enthusiasts. I am fortunate to live in an area that experiences four distinct seasons (although winter has apparently become just a colder form of fall for us in the Southeast). But spring is definitely my favorite season. The next few months will bring many opportunities for all of us to shake off those winter blues and go outside to enjoy nature to its fullest — be sure that you take advantage of it…

–Jim

5 comments


  • Lucy

    Beautiful Jim!

    March 10, 2016
  • sonnia hill

    Beautiful. Our Trillium texanum field trip for this Saturday was cancelled because the trilliums are under water so it was great to have your photos.

    March 10, 2016
  • Walter Ezell

    Beautiful images. And a great outing to kick start the spring.

    March 10, 2016
  • Jim

    Out here in the Midwest, we have E. albidum and E. mesochoreum. They have similar flowers – white. But E. albidum spreads via stolons supposedly and the patches of it in the forest have lots of leaves and few flowers. E. mesochoreum is a prairie species and it grows in clumps and relatively lot of flowers and spreads by offset bulbs (and of course both of them produce seeds). I seem to recall that E. americanum also spreads by stolons. E. mesochoreum is rather rare since its habitat (prairies) has been essentially eliminated.

    March 11, 2016
  • John Fowler

    Great work, as always. And you found a quarter!!!

    March 12, 2016

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