Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday: White Trout Lily

Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday and a celebration of one of my favorite spring ephemerals, the White Trout Lily.

Erythoniums is a genus of Eurasian and North American plants in the lily family. Of the nearly 25 species found in North America (mostly in western USA)  only 4 are found in Tennessee.  Those are: Erythronium rostratum, Erythronium umbilicatum, Erythronium americanum and Erythronium albidum.  Erythronium americanum, the yellow flowered trout lily (above) and E albidum the white flowered trout lily, are both found growing in Davidson county, TN where I live. The yellow flowered seems to be more abundant and on a recent walk I spotted them in bloom at the Warner Parks.

 I feel so lucky to have found White Trout Lilies growing in my garden. I've seen small colonies in nearby woodlands and in a neighbors small sloped side yard. Of course, I hoped the flowers would be white not yellow. Don't get me wrong, I would have loved the yellows, but, there's something extra special about these sweet white flowers.
When mature they gain a second basal leaf with a flower growing from the top of a long stem.
E albidum grows into large colonies with a lot of immature leaves and just a few flowering plants. My neighbor's colony is large and has at least a dozen blooming flowers this year.

My colony is much smaller, but is growing a bit larger every year. I have one flower this year. In fact, I've never had more than one at a time, but, I remain patient. According to research at Friends of Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden only 1% of the White Trout Lily colony flowers at one time. That's not many, but, imagine how lovely it would look if the colony was large enough to cover a forest floor.
From Prairie Moon Nursery
Isn't she lovely.

 The white six petaled flowers curve backward with the the bright yellow stamens nodding downwards. The inside of the flower’s petals are white, and the back of the petals are a mix of soft gray, brown, pink, and blue colors. It's been suggested that the nodding flowers might discourage nectar robbers from stealing the nectar without pollinating it. A practice that makes sense when you consider that this ephemeral has a short time to bloom, get pollinated, go to seed and go dormant.

White Trout Lily is commonly found in moist to mesic deciduous hardwood forests/woodlands from southern Ontario to Texas and much of the eastern USA except North and South Carolina. As hinted above, spring ephemerals have a lot to do in a short period of time and a steady winter diet of sunshine is an essential for their survival in a woodland.
Andrena erythronii bees are oligolectic bee on Trout lilies

Like other spring ephemerals, White Trout Lilies are a vital food source for pollinators at a time when there is little food available. The flowers are primarily pollinated by both long-tongued and short-tongued bees, including honeybees, mason bees, cuckoo bees, digger bees, Halictid bees and  Halictus. The bees suck nectar from the flowers; honeybees and short-tongued bees also collect pollen or nectar and ants feed on the elaiosome that surrounds some seeds. Their thick, fleshy, nutrient and carbohydrate rich corms, roots and tubers are especially attractive to white footed mice, chipmunks and voles. (source)

I am happy to have found them in my garden. I try to keep them safe from voles, mice and deer. A few years ago the small colony that I was so proud of was decimated by voles. They are bouncing back, especially, after I planted a flowering plant I found at a wildflower sale. It was pollinated and seeds were spread. That one planted flower is blooming again and if it gets pollinated there will be more seed to help the colony spread.

WTL also spreads vegetatively~The underground roots bud off new plants. So let's hope that the ants will spread the seeds and in only a few seasons, my small colony will be larger with a chance of more than one flower. Fingers crossed.

Before I go, here's some really cool info: It's been hypothesized by R Muller (1978) that spring ephemerals like White Trout Lilies have an additional important job besides providing food for pollinators. They take up nutrients like nitrogen and potassium in their roots, leaves and stems that would wash away in spring rains or melts and as they die back they release these "saved" nutrients back into the soil for vigorously growing plants to use. This is referred to as vernal dam hypothesis.

So know that when you add spring ephemerals like WTL into your garden, you are giving goodness back into your plant communities, while getting some beautiful flowers! That's a darn good bargain.
Now, let's all get out there and look for spring ephemerals!

The particulars

Lily family (Liliaceae)
Common name: White trout lily, white fawn lily, white dogtooth violet.
Botanical name: Erythronium albidum
Type: Perennial herbaceous, spring ephemeral. In the short period of time before the tree canopy emerges and blocks the sunlight, ephemerals like trout lilies, must grow, leaf-out, flower, be pollinated and produce seeds. This is called the epigeous or above ground growth phase. Once they fade they enter the hypogeous, or below ground growth phase when roots and buds are busy developing. 
Flower: White with a yellow base; bell shaped; early spring.
Foliage: Tulip-like and green with silvery markings, appearing singly or in pairs at the base of the flower stem. Looks like speckled trout and that is how it got one of its common names. Foliage dies back during summer.
Habit: Low-growing ground cover, 4 to 8 inches tall. Grows from corms (bulb-like underground storage stem) and slowly spreads to form large colonies.
Season: Early spring.
Range: Woods and prairies from southern Ontario through the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest to eastern Texas.
Cultivation: Grow in partial to full shade, in moist humus-rich soil. Prefers dappled sun in spring (important that it gets enough sun in spring) and heavier shade in summer. If available plant corms in fall. Do not dig from woodlands. If a friend wants to share be aware that the corms can be more than a foot underground.
Comments: Early spring bloom; ease of care if conditions are right; naturalizes in shade.

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  This day is about sharing wildflowers and other native plants no matter where one gardens~the UK, tropical Florida, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India or the coldest reaches of Canada. It doesn't matter if your WW star of the month is blooming or not, after all it's winter for many of you. It doesn't matter if we sometimes share the same plants; how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. Leave a comment and a link with Mr. Linky.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Thank you for refreshing my memory of these. When I saw the photo on the link to the post, I was imagining the mottled, strappy leaves, and the post shows me my memory was correct. I hope I still have some out there under the leaves somewhere.

  2. What a delicate beauty!

    If only 1% bloom it almost doesn't seem worth their effort? An unusual ecological strategy, I wonder why they do (don't) that. Pollinators must sweat blood to find them.

    1. There's a lot more when they blanket a forest floor, but, 1% seems stingy.

  3. So pretty! I need to grow trout lily in my garden. I planted them once and they didn't come back the following year.

  4. I'm curious as to what Trout Lily has against the Carolinas!!

    1. Not the white ones, but you can grow the yellow trout lily, Erythronium americanum

  5. I had a small clump of yellow trout lilies that faithfully bloomed every year until last year when the #$&^% deer devoured them. But reading here that chipmunks and voles eat the corms makes me fear they are gone forever. The voles have destroyed many plants and while I trap the chipmunks I haven'y been able to do anything about the voles.

    1. They might make a comeback, mine did. Sometimes good things return.

  6. It's gorgeous! I'm sorry I missed WW this month. I've been so busy in the garden trying to get spring cleaning done before I start back to work.

  7. I'd LOVE to see a white trout lily. Lucky you. One of the joys of woodlands in Quebec is seeing the yellow ones bloom, sometimes in huge colonies. I'll post a photo if I can find a good one. I'd post it here if I knew how.

  8. They are so delicate. No wonder you love them so. Gail, thank you for championing the wildflowers. xoxo~~Dee

  9. That is a beauty! I don't think I have ever seen them here in the wild, though it sounds like we are in its native range.

  10. Oh my goodness: stunning images, Gail! I don't have these in my garden, but I've seen them while hiking in the area. Magical little bloomers. :)


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson