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