What Is It Wednesday - Trout Lily

Name: Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Also Known As: Adder’s Tongue and Dogtooth Violet

The Trout Lily is a native perennial plant found throughout eastern North America (Figure 1). It prefers the partial shade and moist floors of woodlands and forests. It is a colony plant, meaning you are likely to find a large amount of them growing together in a single area. They are one of the first plants to bloom in the spring, but quickly produce seeds and die out by early summer. Young plants are flowerless and produce only one mottled leaf, whereas older plants produce one nodding flower and two mottled leaves. The flowers are bright yellow with six petals that pull back to reveal six brown stamens.

Photo Credits: Daria Koscinski (left) & Dave Wake (right)

The name “Trout Lily” comes from the appearance of its leaves, which look very much like the mottled skin of a Brown or Brook Trout. The leaves are stiff and waxy and can grow up to 20 cm in length. It’s other names, “Dogtooth Violet” and “Adder’s Tongue”, are inspired by the dogtooth-shaped bulb on the end of its roots and the resemblance of its stamens to that of a reptiles’ tongue, such as the Adder snake.

All parts of the plant are technically edible but are considered to be emetic (i.e. vomit inducing), so caution is recommended. Traditionally, Trout Lily has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes, such as:

  • poultices for swelling, tumors, scrofulous ulcers, and removing splinters
  • crushed leaf juice for wounds that are not healing
  • contraception

Fun Fact: The Trout Lily has a symbiotic relationship with ants, also known as myrmecochory. The plant produces a tasty, lipid-rich seed appendage for the ants in exchange for the ants’ seed dispersal services. In doing so, seeds are protected from predation and colonies are able to expand across larger areas.

Figure 1: Range map of Trout Lily in North America (http://ontariowildflowers.com/main/species.php?id=115).