Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Yellow Trout Lily

The spring bloom makes a soft entry in our neck of the woods.

White is the first color you will see in the flowers that emerge from the leaf litter: Spring Beauties, Cresses, Toothworts, Harbinger..... It's as if they are mocking the snow that fell only weeks (or days) before.

Yellow is the next color that will strike your gaze. And perhaps no yellow is more mesmerizing than that of the Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum.)

During a 2-3 week stretch in the month of March, these flowers can be found in their old haunts along rich floodplains and moist, wooded slopes in the Eastern half of the country, from southern Louisiana to Canada.

This lily is unmistakable in its appearance: the glossy, mottled leaves are reminiscent of the Brook Trout, which makes its home in the nearby Caney Fork River.

In full bloom, its vibrant yellow head is bent downwards, with six petals folded behind and six yellow or brown anthers reaching forward.

They can appear in massive colonies, with individual flowers blooming for only a few days at a time.

When observing a stand of Trout Lily leaves, you can tell which ones will produce a bloom. If the leaves emerge in pairs, you can rest assured a bloom will follow within a couple of weeks.

These fleshy leaves harbor an important secret.

Erythronium has the ability to pull phosphorus up from the soil, extending it to its foliage. This makes available this mineral to animals starving for sustenance after the scarcity of winter. Deer are especially grateful for these "living phosphorus sinks."

Like many members of the family Liliacae, the plants can also be consumed by us.

The flowers and leaves can be sauteed as a green vegetable. Eat with caution, however, as they are known to produce an emetic reaction in some, especially if consumed in large quantities.

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The corms or roots can be peeled and eaten raw, and are said to taste of cucumber.

It has a rich history of medicinal uses, as well.

The Cherokee Indians brewed a tea from the roots to break a fever and squeezed fresh juice from the leaves over wounds that wouldn't heal. They would also chew the leaves and spit them into a river to make the fish bite!

The blooms are appreciated by a handful of native pollinators, but are not very alluring to honeybees or butterflies.

Trout Lilies lay claim to a rich repertoire of nicknames. The long list includes such evocative titles as Adder's Tongue,  Dogtooth Violet, Fawn Lily, Deer's Tongue, Rattlesnake Violet and Yellow Snowdrop.

As far as the Latin name is concerned, the origin of its genus Erythronium is the Greek word "erythros," which means "red." 

Why the color red? Perhaps this is in reference to the reddish speckling on the inner petals or the ruddy colored anthers found in some specimens of Trout Lily.

Whatever the name or meaning thereof, the regal Trout Lily is a favorite of many - its sunny blooms welcoming the warm spring sunshine filtering through the tree tops.

With the days now warming and the last snow melting, their leaves will soon be pushing their way through the soil. 

They are probably already well on their way.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower: Virginia Spring Beauty

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower ->


Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart

Wildflowers of Tennessee - Jack B. Carman

All About Tennessee Wildflowers - Jan W. Midgley

Cherokee Plants and their Uses - A 400-year History - Paul B. Hamel & Mary U. Chiltoskey


  1. I love these posts - so much useful information!

    1. Me too! I just told my husband all about the Yellow Trout Lily, lol. Looking forward to next Wednesday! :)

    2. Glad you guys are enjoying them. I am too. :)

  2. Such a lovely flower and very interesting and cool that we can eat them as well!

  3. Interesting information...and a beautiful woods flower. :) Thank you.

  4. Very interesting article and the Yellow Trout Lily is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop! I hope you’ll join us again next week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  5. So pretty! I love lily's! I grow 9 different colors/varieties. Wonder how these would do in Pennsylvania? I'll have to look for some.

    Thanks again for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday! I hope you'll join up this week!