Sunday, May 08, 2011


Trout Lily
(Erythronium americanum)

A single bright golden flower tops a slender solitary stem above two mottled green and purple leaves.  The lilies open only on bright sunny days, bending toward the ground like gently nodding heads - it always seems to me that they are listening to the awakening earth.   The three petals and three sepals with their burgundy streaked outward surfaces curl gracefully backward like tricorns or Turkish hats, disclosing six stamens with rusty red, sometimes brownish anthers.  Tabor is right when she says that spring is not only gold and green and red, but pink and purple and rust and chartreuse too.

We call it "Trout Lily" for the resemblance of its artfully dappled leaves to the coloration of a brook trout.  It also goes by “Adder’sTongue” for its purported resemblance to a snake's forked tongue (haven't quite figured that one out), the shape of the sharply pointed leaves as they poke through the detritus of  last autumn. The lily is sometimes named "Fawn Lily" because it blooms just as this year's fawns are being born, and we call it “Dogtooth Violet” for the toothy appearance of the underground corm, although the plant is not a violet by any means.  

One of the first springtime blooms, trout lilies play a vital role in maintaining sylvan balance by capturing nutrients from decaying leaf matter, and they do it long before the forest around them has awakened from its winter slumber.  When their blooming time has passed, and the lilies have died away for another year, the same nutrients are returned to the trees, nourishing them as they stretch their branches skyward and leaf out exuberantly.

Every woodland glade on the Two Hundred Acre Wood is full of these wonderfully curved and nodding beauties at the moment, and it is a travesty that the other residents of the aforementioned glades are dense biting clouds of black flies.  Of course, we went out to the woods to sit with the lilies anyway this weekend - doing so is a long standing tradition and something we would not miss for all the world.

The earth is the mother of us all, and on this day consecrated to mothers everywhere, let us also think of her humbly, with deep gasshos (bows) and heartfelt gratitude.  This one is for you Mama from an elderly (and somewhat creaky) daughter who loves you beyond all words.


Anonymous said...

I'd love to be there to see it!

Guy said...

What a lovely delicate bloom.


Cindy said...

The Old Wild Mother is content today with all her resplendent flowers. A deep *gassho* to that which blesses my life, as a mother, and as a grateful observer.

One Woman's Journey - a journal being written from Woodhaven - her cottage in the woods. said...

I wish I had them in my woods.
So pleased you called her "mama"
that is what my children call me.