Each week we showcase a plant that’s native to the continental United States. This week’s plant is trout lily (Erythronium americanum)—another spring ephemeral and jewel of the forest floor hiding amid the leaf litter.
This Lilliputian native occurs across most of eastern North America. It’s called trout lily because the mottled leaves are said to resemble the markings on a trout, and because it is a member of the lily family.
Trout lily grows in rich northern hardwood forests. Once you start looking, the distinctive leaves appear in abundance on the forest floor. According to the University of Michigan Herbarium, trout lily is found in nearly every county in the state. Often, the leaves only are seen and greatly outnumber flowering trout lily plants.
Like other spring ephemerals, trout lily sprouts, blooms, sets fruit, and fades before the tree canopy leafs out. This strategy takes advantage of the sun that reaches the forest floor before the deep shade of summer takes over.
Occasionally you’ll see a colony of flowering trout lily—truly an amazing sight and well worth a walk in the woods to discover. As always, please do not collect wild plants of any kind.
Photos: Trout lily flowers in Nichols Arboretum: Michele Yanga; trout illustration by Duane Raven, U.S. Forest Service.