Trout Lily

May I introduce to you the Trout Lily? It is a remarkable wildflower that is an example of 'Good things come to those that wait.' This lily doesn't bloom until year 7 of its life. (source) Wow! Now that I know that, I wish that I hadn't stepped on this one! I'm kidding- I was very careful around it.

But, why is this flower known as the Trout Lily?  That question has plagued me since first seeing this wildflower in a field guide. I have since discovered the answer-  but do you?  Let's play a quick game of Know your Wildflowers and find out.  Be sure to answer the question before continuing to read the article.

According to the website Wild About Gardening, this wildflower is known as the Trout Lily because of the appearance of its reddish, speckled leaves (or sometimes white specks, as in the photo). Therefore, the correct answer to the question is the 3rd choice- The speckled pattern on the leaves remind some folks of a Brook Trout. For those that aren't sure what a Brook Trout looks like, here is a link to a photo of a the fish.

However,  I don't see the resemblance. Surely its scientific name will describe this lily more appropriately, right?

The Trout Lily's scientific name is Erythronium americanum. The Wild About Gardening website mentions that the word Erythronium is derived from the Greek word erythros meaning "red".  Red?!  Scientists described this lily as "red"?!   Somehow or another I think that there was a mixup with the paperwork when this flower was described and we are left with both a common and scientific name that doesn't make any sense.

I wish someone would have left the naming of this plant up to me- I would have given it a descriptive name like the Seven Year Lily. Or, maybe I would have called it the Yellow Night Napper Lily. According to an Auburn University website, Ms. Caroline Dean writes that this lily's blossom opens it petals up each morning and upon the arrival of the night, it folds them up again until the next morning.

I know what you are wondering. You are wanting to know, "Is the Trout Lily edible?" According to my trusty Peterson Field Guide of Edible Wild Plants- the answer is yes. The field guide suggests preparing the young leaves by boiling them for 15 minutes and serving with vinegar. The corms (the root part of the plant) can be boiled for 20-25 minutes and served with butter. The website mentions that the blossoms are "tasty". Note, both the Peterson Field Guide and warn that this plant is mildly emetic. Emetic means "to vomit." The Indians were known to use this plant as an emetic.

This plant has been documented by ethnobotanists to have had the following uses (from Native American Ethnobotany; Moerman, Daniel E.):

  • The Cherokee crushed warm leaves and poured the juice over wounds that wouldn't heal.
  • The Cherokee used an infusion of the root as a febriuge- to reduce fever.
  • The Cherokee also used the plant in a compound to help with fainting. (I assume to help stop fainting, but one never knows.)
  • The Iroquois were said to have eaten the raw plants (not the roots) to prevent conception.
  • The Iroquois made a poultice of the smashed roots to treat swellings and for removing slivers.
And lastly, my favorite bit of folklore regarding this wildflower comes from the website Evidently the Cherokee Indians would chew the root and then spit the juice into the water in an effort to get the fish to bite.

Perhaps they were catching trout?


Flávia said...

so beautiful your pic! you make this(every pics)?
(My english is bad, sorry)
very good!

Eve said...

A wonderful photo and entertaining learning experience Daniel! I had thses beautiful flowers on my property back home! Maybe I'll see some here too!
Oh I got the question right! :-)

Daniel Spurgeon said...

Thanks Flavia and Eve for your comments. I don't know how many of these flowers are around here, Eve- this is the first one that I've seen in the area- but I think that they are supposed to be common here. The photos of the Trout Lily that I had seen from the New England states did seem to have more red in the leaves- which would make sense in regards to its scientific name.

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Very interesting, Daniel. Lovely photo as well.

Sacha said...

That was very interesting to read about the Trout Lily. I live in Northern Ontario, and the Trout Lilies are taking over our lawns. The grow everywhere here... all throughout the bush and trees. I was wondering if you had a way to stop the spread of them... every year there are more and more on our lawn. Thanks! :)

danonthefarm said...

How blessed you are, Sacha, to have a Trout Lily lawn!