Plant Database

Smith, R.W.

Erythronium americanum

Yellow Trout-lily, American Trout-lily, Eastern Trout-lily, Yellow Dogtooth Violet, Adder’s Tongue

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

A pair of brownish-mottled leaves sheath the base of a stalk that bears a solitary, nodding flower, yellow inside, bronzy outside. This colony-forming perennial sends up two, 3-6 in., elliptic, maroon-mottled leaves and a slightly taller stalk bearing a single, nodding, yellow flower. Petals and sepals are bent backwards exposing six brown stamens. Single-leaved, non-flowering plants also occur, either too young or too crowded to flower.

Recognized by its brown-mottled leaves, this is one of our most common spring ephemeral wildflowers, and it is found in sizable colonies. The common name (Dogtooth Violet) refers to the toothlike shape of the white underground bulb. The name Trout Lily (a more suitable name since the flower is not a Violet) refers to the similarity between the leaf markings and those of the brown or brook trout. The White Dogtooth Violet (E. albidum) has narrow, mottled leaves and white, bell-shaped flowers, often tinged with lavender on the outside. It is found from southern Ontario to Georgia, west to Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma, and north to Minnesota. Minnesota Adders Tongue (E. propullans), found only in Minnesota, has pink flowers and produces a small bulb midway up the stem.

From the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Flower:
Fruit:
Size Class: 0-1 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May

Distribution

USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , GA , IA , IL , IN , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: NB , NS , ON , QC
Native Distribution: N.B., s. Que & s. Ont., s. through mts. to n. GA & to n.e. OK
Native Habitat: Moist, deciduous woodlands & openings

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pHSoil Description: Moist, rich soils.
Conditions Comments: Trout lily must be planted where it will receive ample sun in early spring. It makes an attractive seasonal ground cover. A leafy wintercover, left in place in spring, is desireable. Clumps of plants that include many leaves and few flowers should be divided.

Benefit

Conspicuous Flowers: yes

Propagation

Propagation Material: Root Division , Seeds
Description: The easiest way to propagate is by marking the plants in the spring and digging the offsets in late summer. Set these small bulbs at least three inches deep and mulch well. Propagation from seed takes a long time. Collect it in the spring.
Seed Collection: Seeds mature 6-8 weeks after flowering. By then the leaves have withered so it is best to mark the plant while it is in flower. Seed capsules are light green and oval in outline. Stored seeds quickly lose viability.
Seed Treatment: Seeds should be planted fresh.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Mt. Cuba Center – Hockessin, DE

Bibliography

Bibref 928 – 100 easy-to-grow native plants for Canadian gardens (2005) Johnson, L.; A. Leyerle
Bibref 1620 – Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 1294 – The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.
Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Erythronium americanum in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Erythronium americanum in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Erythronium americanum

Metadata

Record Modified: 2019-03-19
Research By: TWC Staff

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Dog’s-tooth violet

Dog’s-Tooth Violet

Dog’s-tooth violet is known by a host of common names that include yellow trout lily, yellow fawn lily, and yellow adder’s tongue. No matter the name, this native woodland wildflower (which, surprisingly, is not a member of the viole…; family) is a harbinger of spring in the shade garden. It spreads slowly to form colonies of mottled strappy foliage—similar in appearance to the skin of a spotted trout—below stems of nodding lilylike flowers in sunny yellow.

Tuck this tiny spring bloomer into shade gardens, woodland plantings, and shaded areas of rock gardens where it will gracefully greet spring. Thriving in moist or wet soil, it also grows well along stream banks and beside ponds. Plant it on stream banks to help prevent erosion.

genus name
  • Erythronium
light
  • Part Sun,
  • Shade
plant type
  • Bulb
height
  • Under 6 inches
width
  • 3 to 6 inches
flower color
  • White,
  • Pink
foliage color
  • Chartreuse/Gold
season features
  • Spring Bloom
problem solvers
  • Groundcover,
  • Slope/Erosion Control
zones
  • 3,
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8
propagation
  • Division

Planting Partners

Pair dog’s-tooth violet with other spring-blooming woodland wildflowers for a springtime flower show. Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiana), trillium, and jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) are all great garden companions. Spring-blooming woodland wildflowers often retreat underground in the heat of summer. Plant them alongside perennials that will mask the empty garden spots the spring ephemerals leave behind. Ferns, astilbe, coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea), and hosta are all good mid- and late-season perennial companions for dog’s-tooth violet.

Pair these match-made-in-heaven spring plants together.

Dog’s-Tooth Violet Care Must-Knows

Dog’s-tooth violet grows best in part shade or shade and moist soil rich in organic matter. Plant these tiny corms 2 to 3 inches deep and 4 to 5 inches apart in fall. This is a deeper planting depth than you might expect for such a small bulb, but it is necessary for this plant to overwinter well.

Dog’s-tooth violet blooms in early to mid-spring. Expect the perennial’s mottled, deep-green foliage to die back in midsummer and reappear the following spring. Plants will maintain their foliage longer in moist soil.

See more plants that deer won’t bother.

More Varieties of Dog’s-Tooth Violet

‘Pagoda’ dog’s tooth violet

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This cultivar is a cross between two native North American species that produces up to five golden-yellow flowers on each stem. The petals on Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ reflex to reveal a reddish ring at the base and bloom in mid- to late spring. The leaves are thick and veined in whitish green. It grows 1 foot tall. Zones 3-8

‘Purple King’ dog’s tooth violet

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Erythronium dens-canis ‘Purple King’ bears reflexed flowers that resemble large cyclamen, with their fuchsia coloring and reddish-brown-throated base. It grows 5 inches tall. Zones 3-8

Trout lily

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Erythronium americanum is a North American native wildflower that produces clusters of golden flowers reversed in purplish brown on leafless stems sprouting from mottled foliage. It grows 10 inches tall. Zones 3-8

Trout Lily

We all have signs that tell us spring is here. For some, it is the red-winged blackbird calling or the sweet smell of the thawing earth. The sight of trout lilies poking through last autumn’s leaves is surely a sign for others.

This early bloomer appears briefly in the spring, often before all the snow and ice has left the ground. It is a common wildflower of eastern Canada’s deciduous — and sometimes mixed — woods but can adapt to partially shaded areas of many gardens. (See below for other Canadian Erythronium species.)

What’s in a name?

This plant has a few common names, each pointing to some distinguishing characteristic. “Trout lily” is derived from the resemblance of its mottled leaves to the colouring on brook trout. “Adder’s tongue” refers to the similarity between a snake’s tongue and the sharply pointed, unopened purple leaves as they poke through the dense forest litter. “Dogtooth violet” is said to reflect the white, tooth-like shape of its corm, although it is not a violet at all.

Its latin name, Erythronium americanum, is partly from the Greek word erythros, meaning “red.” This is a reference either to the red flower or the reddish blotching of some Erythronium species.

Appearance

Trout lilies are low-growing plants that form colonies of plants of different ages. The youngsters are flowerless and have only one leaf, while older plants produce two leaves and a single flower. A plant’s corm has to reach sufficient depths (10 to 20 centimetres below ground) before it will devote energy to making the additional parts.

Despite being a low-growing plant that can easily blend in with its environment, the trout lily’s fleshy green leaves with purple mottling make it easy to recognize. Its graceful yellow flower sits atop a solitary stem and droops towards the ground. Its petals, however, curl upwards, revealing the bright yellow of the inner petals. As a member of the lily family, the trout lily displays a common characteristic of having three petals and three petal-like sepals.

Be sure to watch out for these common spring flowers before June has passed and their above-ground parts have withered away. After that, they will be focusing their energies on spreading underground and making new shoots for next year.

Uses

Trout lily leaves and corms were traditionally boiled and eaten and, as with many things in life, eaten in moderation for too many could cause mild vomiting.

(Caution: We are not recommending the use of these plants for medicinal or food purposes. Many plants are poisonous or harmful if eaten or used externally. The information on food and medicinal value is only added for interest. This information has been gathered from books and its accuracy has not been tested.)

Propagation

This is a plant that relies more on the spreading abilities of its underground root system (corms) than on seed production from its flowers. In fact, it takes a few years for a plant to be mature enough to produce a flower and seeds. Trout lilies have recruited the help of ants, who eat a nutritious appendage attached to each seed and leave the rest to germinate. If you wish to propagate your trout lilies from seed, you will want to follow nature’s lead, at least as far as temperature is concerned. Keep your seeds moist and give them a few months of warm followed by a few months of cold, similar to the seeds falling on the ground at the beginning of summer and receiving the summer warmth and winter cold before sprouting the following spring. Wildflowers sometimes stagger their germination over several years, so you might want to sow a few extra seeds to avoid disappointment.

These plants will naturally spread by forming vast colonies. Some wild colonies are reputed to be as old as the trees around them — two or three hundred years! Despite its ability to spread, the trout lily is not considered an aggressive spreader but rather a delight to have in one’s garden.

Care

Trout lilies grow in moist, fertile woods but can adapt to growing in many types of gardens. Ideally, they should be planted amidst two or more deciduous trees that are large enough to provide shade or partial shade once their leaves emerge.

As they are above ground for only a short time, the only care you have to be concerned with is choosing a suitable spot. It should offer sun in the spring — to warm the earth and provide enough light for the lilies to make and store food — and shade or partial shade in the summer.

Trout lilies are lovely interplanted with other spring ephemerals such as white-flowered bloodroot or pinkish spring beauties. They might even be happy in a section of your lawn, but be sure to let the grass grow until the plant’s aerial parts have withered away for the year.

If you buy corms, make sure they are firm and free of mould. Plant them in rich, well-drained soil in the fall, about 5 to 7.5 centimetres deep. Do not store them for future years, as they tend to go soft and mouldy. If you are buying potted plants instead, transplant them in the spring. Remember to buy from nurseries that guarantee nursery-propagated seeds or plants as our native plants and habitats are at risk from being depleted.

If you choose to improve the soil with fertilizer, compost is best.

Species Summary

Trout lily (Erythronium americanum)

  • Native to: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
  • Habitat: Moist woods and meadows
  • Appearance: Yellow flower, blooming anywhere from March to May, atop a pair of purply-brown mottled leaves.

Some Other Canadian Erythronium Species

White trout lily (E. albidum)

  • Native to: southern Ontario
  • Habitat: Woods and thickets
  • Appearance: Very similar to the trout lily but with a white flower, sometimes tinged with a lavender-blue colour with leaves that are only slightly mottled, if at all.

Coast fawn lily, Pink fawn lily (E. revolutum)

  • Native to: southwester British Columbia (Vancouver Island, adjacent islands, and mainland)
  • Habitat: Meadows and open moist woods
  • Appearance: Each plant has one or more pinky-white flowers and mottled leaves.

Yellow avalanche lily (E. grandiflorum)

  • Native to: British Columbia, Alberta
  • Habitat: Alpine meadows and slopes
  • Appearance: One or more yellow flowers per plant; leaves are not mottled.

White avalanche lily (E. montanum)

  • Native to: southwestern British Columbia
  • Habitat: Alpine meadows
  • Appearance: White flowers sometimes streaked with pink, having one or more flowers with leaves that are usually not mottled.

White fawn lily (E. oregonum)

  • Native to: southwestern British Columbia (Vancouver Island, adjacent islands, and mainland)
  • Habitat: Grassy ledges, open moist woods
  • Appearance: This species has one or more flowers — white with a light-yellow base — and mottled leaves.

Growing native plants can save time and money and be rewarding both to the eye and to our wildlife neighbours. To learn more about growing native plants in your garden, visit http://cwf-fcf.org/en/resources/online-articles/news/habitat/gardening-with-native-canadian-plants.html.

Every garden has some shade and every gardener needs a few special plants to drool over in the odd contemplative moment that makes gardening such a pleasure. Make use of the first and satisfy the second by planting Erythronium dens-canis. Commonly known as dog’s-tooth violet, both names allude to the shape of the tubers – long, pointed, off-white and shiny.

Erythroniums belong to the lily family and, although diminutive – no taller than 10cm – their charisma is more than a match for their bigger cousins. Their early appearance in the garden only heightens my joy at seeing them. First come the beautifully mottled leaves, followed by long, scrolled buds that unfurl in the warm spring sun, curling magically into pretty pink “turk’s-cap” flowers.

The American species, E. revolutum and E. californicum, are loftier beauties. Rising from thick twin leaves, richly marbled in bronze, their pink or white flowers dangle gracefully from 30cm stems. E. californicum ‘White Beauty’ is particularly fine, with large creamy white flowers, each marked with a circle of red – a welcome mat for pollen-seeking insects. The flower stems are red, too. Given that its leaves are dappled green on green, its common name of trout lily is apt.

Yellow is the colour of a new spring and E. tuolumnense, with its glossy green leaves with undulating edges, and E. ‘Pagoda’, whose leaves are sometimes slightly dappled, provide a wealth of rich, yellow flowers on 45cm tall stems. Plant E. tuolumnense as nature intended in the damp margins on a pond.

The best way to buy erythroniums is as growing plants. Sometimes they are sold as dry bulbs but too often they are Rip Van Winkle dormant and cannot be kick-started into life.

Planting in shade is often synonymous with finding a home between the roots of shrubs or trees. The safest damage-limitation method is to investigate with a hand fork before plunging in with the trowel.

As with all planting, the mantra has to be “emulate nature”: give them shade, humus-rich soil – leaf mould or compost – then let them be their own wild selves. As a pack, dog’s-tooth violets are tolerant and will soon make themselves at home, self-seeding freely.

Dogtooth Violet

Photo by Greg Tensmeyer

(Erythronium grandiflorum)
CAUTION – see below
History: This is a flower with many common names such as Fawn Lily, Glacier Lily, Snow Lily, Adders-tongue, and Easter Lily to name a few. “Erythronium” is taken from the Greek word “erythro” meaning red in reference to the pink or red flowers of some species. “Grandiflorum” means large-flowered.
Description: This is the only lily in our area with 2 large, shiny oblong leaves which are located at the base of the stem. The flower has 6 yellow petals that curve back and 6 stamens protruding from the center. There is also a white or cream-colored Erythronium grandiflorum, variety candidum, which grows south of Coeur d’Alene. The bulbs are crisp and white inside.
Habitat: Found along stream banks, in shaded woods and in subalpine meadows, following the melting snowline from the valleys up to subalpine.
Comments: Although these lilies may be locally abundant they should not be gathered. A wildflower a showy as the Dogtooth Violet should be left to the beauty of woodland and meadow landscapes.
Edible and medicinal value: The Dogtooth Violet is a natural food source for bears, ground squirrels and other wildlife. The bulbs of this lily were only an occasional food source of native Americans. These deep-seated bulbs were difficult to dig and probably contributed to the fact that they were used infrequently. The bulbs can be eaten raw or boiled and the leaves can be eaten as a salad plant. The bulbs and leaves occasionally impart a burning sensation.

Growing Dogtooth Violets: Learn About Dogtooth Violet Trout Lily

Dogtooth violet trout lily (Erythronium albidum) is a perennial wildflower that grows in woodlands and mountain meadows. It is commonly found across much of the eastern United States. The nectar-rich little blooms are highly attractive to a variety of native bees.

Removing wildflowers from their natural setting isn’t beneficial to the environment and usually isn’t successful. If you’re thinking about growing dogtooth violets in your garden, look for the bulbs or plants at nurseries that specialize in native plants. Once the plant is established in your garden, it is easily propagated by digging and replanting the offsets in late summer.

What Does a Dogtooth Violet Look Like?

Dogtooth violet isn’t a violet, and the drooping, lily-like blooms are actually white with a subtle, violet tint. The flowers, which bloom in early spring, open in morning and close in evening. Each flower is accompanied by two bright green leaves marked with reddish-brown, trout-like spots. The plant is named for the small underground bulb, which resembles a dog’s pointed canine tooth. Mature height of a dogtooth violet plant is 6 to 12 inches.

Planting Dogtooth Violet Bulbs

There isn’t much effort needed when growing dogtooth violets in the woodland garden. Dogtooth trout lily performs well in a location in dappled sunlight or light shade, such as a spot under a deciduous tree. Although dogwood trout lily prefers moist soil, it benefits from drier soil during its dormant period in summer and fall.

To plant dogtooth violet bulbs, loosen the soil with a garden fork or spade, then plant the small bulbs, pointy end up, about 5 inches apart, with approximately 2 inches between each bulb. Water well to settle the soil around the bulbs. The bulbs will develop roots in the fall.

Care of Dogtooth Trout Lily

Water dogtooth trout lily as needed throughout the growing season, then decrease water after blooming. Usually, one deep watering per week is plenty.

Don’t be tempted to remove foliage after dogtooth trout lily stops blooming. In order to produce flowers the following year, the bulbs require food created when energy is absorbed by the leaves. Wait until the leaves die down and turn yellow.

A loose mulch, such as dried, chopped leaves, will protect the bulbs during the winter.

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