Trout LiliesMy beautiful picture

In 1957, we purchased our 3/4 acre lot in Century Oaks for $2700.00.   We put $100.00 down and paid $100 a month thereafter until it we paid it off in 26 months.  The Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) in the center of the picture was also in the center of the back lot line, its burley arms stretching 40‘ in all directions.  When we built our ranch house on the property we arranged it so the oak tree was centered in the back living room window–our “picture window” did indeed have a picture in it.

The lot was wedge-shaped, wider in front, narrower at the back.  It sloped down to a tiny creek that was dry in the autumn.  The following spring, much to my delight, I discovered the little hillside was carpeted with diminutive, beautifully wine-mottled waxy leaves, dotted here and there with white, lily-like flowers.  I had never seen this flower before and was thrilled with its beauty.

Trout Lily HH

It was White Trout Lily or Dogtooth Violet (Ethronium albidum), common in oak woodlands.

 (It was also referred to as “dog-tooth violets” based on a European species (Erythronium dens-canis) which has bulbs shaped like a dog’s canine tooth. In Europe, too, the term “violets” has been applied to spring wildflowers in general.  “Erythronium” from Greek for “red-purple,” the color of flowers of Erythronium dens-canis.)  Arkansas Native Plant Society

trout lily large

The flower emerges only from the two-leaved plants–the single-leaved plants are sterile.  It increases primarily by stolons sent out from the underground egg-shaped corm, that results in large colonies.  I have tried to transplant these attractive plants, but the corms are buried deeply, out of reach of a trowel.   It does seed itself, also, but seeds take 7 years to become a corm and another 7 years to produce 2 leaves and a flower.  Ants frequently carry off the seeds, resulting in plants popping up some distance from the original colony.

The flowers last only a few days, fading quickly after fertilization.  A spring  ephemeral, the leaves fade away also, within a month.

Trout Lily Sharon Cross

The white flowers are sometimes tinged with lavender. (Photo supplied by Sharon Cross)

trout lily my garden

In the wild It is found in colonies in oak and other woodlands.  I have some in my savanna garden that I’m not sure about how they arrived there.    I can only assume seeds or corms were buried in a pot of something else that I bought from a native plant nursery.  One bloomed this spring, but I did not get outside fast enough to photograph it.

yellow trout lily

There is also a Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), rare on the east side of the lake, but frequent in the mesic woods of Michigan on the west side of the lake.  (I took this photo at a native plant nursery in April of 2007.

Go on a woodland wildflower walk this weekend–Trout Lily is only one of many ephemerals you will see.

Also, if you live in the Elgin, Illinois, area, don’t miss the Northern Kane County Wild Ones 2nd Annual NativePlant Sale  this Saturday, May 3,  from 10 am until 1 pm at Hawthorne Hill Nature Center, just north of the intersection of Route 20 and Randall Road in Elgin.  (28 Brookside Drive).

Collections designed by me for a Butterfly Garden, a Shade Garden, and a Rain Garden are for sale.

Come early and buy lots.  Bring your friends and relatives.

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14 Responses to TROUT LILIES

  1. Monica April 30, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    Lovely post, thanks, Pat! My trout lilies are just a few years old and I have some time before I see a bloom!

  2. yvonne May 1, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    What a beautiful post. I love the old picture of the burr oak too. I have a white oak in my yard that I got from Possibility Place Nursery in Monee IL. only one in the neighborhood I think!

  3. Suzanne Poursine May 1, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

    Pat, I’m finding ever increasing patches of these beauties in our oak-hickory woods. I never knew about the flowers emerging only from two-leaved plants, but always wondered why all of the big patches weren’t in bloom. Since we’ve been here since 1994 and seeded the prairie on road frontage, then started controlled burns yearly, then started clearing Buckthorn, it makes sense some patches are still maturing in order to produce blooms. Thanks for a great post.

  4. Pat Sullivan-Schroyer May 3, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    Perfect timing for your info! Had no idea it took 14 years from seed to bloom! I have found the secret to transplanting trout lilies—dig them as soon as you can after you see the leaf tips popping up in the Spring. And use a garden fork for loosening/digging. It is a whole lot easier to get the whole root along with the corm though it still takes patience. They are the most tedious plant I have ever worked with for transplanting!

  5. Judy Cheetham May 5, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

    Pat –
    Next to my alley is a cluster of Prairie Trout Lilies – erythronium propullans (?). I’ve lived in my house in Elgin for 43 years, and have no idea how they rooted in the gravelly soil behind my garage. I noticed them 3 years ago, and the single leaves are spreading. However this year there was only 1 two-leafed Lily that bloomed with a pinkish white flower. (I took a pic of the pretty, nodding loner).
    Very much appreciated all the info. Thank you.

  6. Pat May 6, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    Just love the photo from ’57! Thanks for the post.

    • PatHill May 6, 2014 at 11:37 am #

      Did you notice the price of the lot? Only $2700! and it took us 2 years to pay it off.

  7. Jason May 7, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    I was just reading about trout lily ‘Pagoda’, which is a hybrid of two species from California. These are so lovely, why aren’t they commercially available? I don’t see them even in the specialty catalogs.

  8. Meredith Schroeer May 19, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Am hoping I can be a permanent recipient of your posts, Pat. Can you tell me how I should go about this? (I sent a similar message on your current posting, and tried to submit it, but it seemed to vanish. I’ll try again now!)

  9. Sue Young June 19, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    In May, Daniel Wright Woods in Lake County IL has an incredible display of trillium and trout lilies. I was lucky to catch them all blooming this year.

  10. Karen Sherman August 28, 2014 at 11:27 pm #

    Hi Pat, I am a little behind on my e-mails but I always read your blogs before I delete them.I think the trout lilies are from me .I remember planting some from my yard a few years ago.Karen Sherman

    • PatHill August 29, 2014 at 1:25 am #

      Thank you, Karen. You’ve given me lots of flowers–I didn’t remember the Trout Lily.

  11. Jean April 22, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

    Hi Pat, After clearing away that pesky buckthorn from the back of my property I am excited to tell you that I am starting to see life appear!!! I’ll catch up wit you soon.


  1. Trout Lilies: Durable Little Woodland Stalwarts | The Weedpatch Gazette - May 2, 2014

    […] is a very sweet and interesting post about our woodland Trout lilies by Batavia blogger Pat Hill, who is also the author of the 2007 […]

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