troutlily (Erythronium americanum)
yellow adder's tongue
yellow fawn lily
yellow dog-tooth violet
One of the common names for troutlily (adder’s tongue) is in reference to
the tongue-like shape of the flowering shoot as it rises up in spring and
the supposed resemblance of the flower to the open mouth of a snake. The common name of trout lily is in reference to the mottled leaves and the appearance of the flowers during trout fishing season. The common name
of fawn lily is in reference to the spotted leaves and the supposed resem-
blance of the two-leaved plant to the upright ears of a fawn. The common
name of dog-tooth violet (it grows from tiny corms that purportedly re-
semble dogteeth and its flowers somewhat resemble violets) is unfortunate-
ly quite misleading because this flower is not a member of the Violet Family.
Erythronium flavum Sm.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of troutlily is
Erythronium americanum Ker Gawl. Plants with brown anthers have
been called forma castaneum L. B. Smith.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: Troutlily is a native spring wildflower that occurs in moist woods,
on wooded slopes and bluffs, and along streams. This early spring perren-
nial generally grows from 4 - 10 inches tall.
Leaves: Leaves oblong to elongate, dark green, smooth, broad, occurring
in a pair at the base of the plant and are about 3 inches tall and about 1 in-
ch wide. Leaves mottled with with brown dull purple. Flowering plants
always have two basal leaves (reports indicate occasionally three basal
leaves), however colonies frequently have non-flowering plants with only
a single leaf. This is a vegital form of Erythronium americanum that does
not flower. These individuals make up about 99% of a given population of
this species. The distinguishing characteristic of the vegital plants are a
single basal leaf and no flower.
Flowers: A single, large, nodding, bell- or lily-shaped, generally yellow
(bright white or creamy colored to bright yellow) flower blooms atop a
naked scape sheathed by the two glossy, tongue-shaped, tulip-like, basal
leaves. Petal-like perianth segments are reflexed and often brushed with
purple on the outside; the flower is most likely nodding. Anthers are yel-
low to brown.
Fruit/Seeds: Seeds of troutlily are reddish brown and crescent shaped. The
fruit produced is a dehiscent capsule that contain many large seeds.
Roots: The root is a deeply buried, bulb-like corm, light brown, about 1
inch long, and solid with white starchy flesh. Corms of this species pro-
duce stolons, and plants will slowly spread to form large colonies if left
undisturbed in optimum growing conditions.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Troutlily propogates by reseeding; how-
ever, while plants may be grown from seed, they will not flower for 4-5
years. Because of their extensive stolon production, non- flowering plants
far outnumber flowering ones in most populations.
HABITAT TYPES: Found in a variety of forest types, but preferring
wet soils. It can be found in moist forest habitats, as well as near rivers
and streams, and low lying areas.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Troutlily strongly prefers moist conditions, usually in shade to partial shade. Prefers slightly acid well-drained soil and
plenty of humus.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Troutlily is one of the earliest and most conspicuous flowers of early spring. Flowering time is from March to May.
After flowering, it recedes underground; even large colonies of troutlily
simply disappear by summer.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Troutlily occurs from New Brunswick to Georgia (not Florida) and west to Ontario and south through Minnesota to Louisiana. It does not naturally grow in most of the Great Plains, southwest, Rocky Mountain states or provinces, or the far western and northwestern
states and provinces.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Bees suck nectar and collect pollen.
Edible and medicinal, the whole trout lily plant is used as fresh salad add-
itives, flowers are tasty, or cooked as a pot herb. Troutlily is used in alter-
native medicine as contraceptive, diuretic, emetic, emollient, febrifuge,
stimulant. Plant constituents include alph-methylene-butyrolactone which
has antimutagenic activity. This chemical prevents cell mutation and may
prove to be a valuable weapon in fighting all cancers. The leaves and bulb
are crushed and used to dress wounds and reduce swellings, for scrofula
and other skin problems. A medicinal tea made from the root and leaf is
said to reduce fever and fainting, tea also taken for ulcers, tumors and
It is said that the Cherokee Indians would chew the root and spite it in the
water to make fish bite. The young women of one tribe ate the raw plant
in large quantities to prevent conception, probably due to the fact they
Troutlily has been used as an ornamental, especially in shade gardens,
woodland gardens or wild/naturalized areas. Also grows well in pond or
stream banks or in shady areas of rock gardens.
Crooked Run Valley