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Trout Lily Appreciation

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

Every Sunday I'll be posting a plant I share my love for. I want this to be a stress free project so I am still navigating how this could look like. Possibly quick video summaries I can post to YouTube/Instagram.

For now it will be a detailed post with a summarized Instagram post. You can choose your own adventure. Though I do want to make sure this is reaching the right people so I am open to your ideas. Feel free to contact me at

Spring Ephemerals

I remember driving along a country road admiring the forest floors packed with Trilliums. It was that moment that I realized...this beauty doesn’t last all summer long.

I turned to my teacher and asked, “Why is it that the Trilliums fill our forests then disappear? Where do they go?”

She smiled and asked me, “What happens with the trees when the flowers disappear?

I thought about it and imagined what the forest looks like. “The trees have leaves!?”

She nodded yes and smiled, “These are Spring Ephemerals.”

Wow! I had never made that connection before. With everything in nature you pull a thread and the mysteries just keep unraveling.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Ephemeral as: lasting a very short time

Spring Ephemerals are plants that start developing quickly once the weather begins warming. These plants take advantage of the high levels of sunlight. Developing their stems, leaves, flowers and seeds before the forest canopy has grown in.

Where do they go?

The leaves wither and the plants simply lay dormant until next spring. Some will remain as leafy foliage. I’ve come across Trilliums in the middle of summer . . . nature can be unpredictable!

Some common plants that are Spring Ephemerals:

Trout Lily


Spring Beauties

Blood Root

So why are spring ephemerals so important?

Why is anything in nature important?

Need there be a gosh darn reason?

Nature IS amazing.

Though, I’m curious and nature is interesting.

Also, let’s get real here. Humans won't take responsibility for something unless they care for it.

So if I’m going to ask you to respect wild plants and the natural world, I need to stop telling you HOW to be ethical - but instead put reasons in front of you that give you no other excuse but to love said topic. Resulting in abundant love & care for nature. Leading to more humans connecting with plants, tending to the wild & advocating the wild spaces....I digress.

Okay well let’s start with Spring Ephemerals are BEAUTIFUL. They bring such joy after we’ve endured the winter.

Also, I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. While sitting in a lawn covered in Violets I watched honey bees & other pollinators enjoy the $h!t out of these flowers. When crawling among a forest floor of Hepatica flowers I saw different insects I don’t even know the names of, pollinating the flowers.

Spring Ephemerals are sooo important for the pollinators! The pollinators are waking up too as the weather warms and they’re hungry!

Each plant has unique interactions with life around them. Just like the Monarch butterfly wouldn’t be here without Milkweed - there is something to uncover about all the plants around us.

This week we are admiring Trout Lily.

Trout Lily, Leaf Markings. Photo from Graham Buck.

Trout Lily

Erythronium americanum

A member of the Lily family. Trout Lilies are fun little plants. Their leaves have beautiful designs - said to resemble the markings of a Trout. Their cute yellow flowers remind me of bells.


Rich hardwood & mixwood forests. You see Trout Lilies growing amongst dense leaf litter and other decaying forest matter. You can also find them growing along riversides. They grow in colonies. I have never found only 1.

Hard Workers

How a plant grows is important. Trout Lilies spread through seed & their roots - but this process takes time.

A Trout Lily seed may not germinate the next year. When a seed does germinate, it takes many years for a plant to mature (4-7). You will only see flowers on mature Trout Lilies. These mature plants have two leaves.

The root of a Trout Lily is called a Corm. These corms send out new shoots but only once the corm has reached a certain depth in the ground. (10-12 cm down according to Canadian Wildlife Federation) Again, something that takes time to grow to.

BFFS with Ants - Myrmecochory

Mymecochory is the action of seed dispersal done by ants. Yes! Many species actually rely on Ants to help move their seeds around.

Trout Lily seeds have a fleshy outside that ants love called a Elaisome. This tasty coating is packed with lipids and proteins. The forager ants bring the seeds back to the colony where they feast on the Elaisome and dispose of the seeds in their underground compost. The seed can now germinate safely in the nutrient rich environment.

A Threat

Invasive plants compete with native plants for space to grow and normally win. Garlic Mustard is an invasive I see growing here in Peterborough on the edges of Trout lily colonies. Garlic Mustard has been known to dominate forest under stories in 5-7 years. If 1 Trout Lily takes 4-7 years to mature, how can our native plant compete with this invasive.

One caring action you can take is harvesting Garlic Mustard (including the root) before it goes to seed. Then disposing of those plants in a bag for the garbage. If you toss these on the ground they will still go to seed and spread.

Any care taking action takes time. Some areas have been under 5 year removal plans.

Nature is always changing

While to some it may seem a fantasy to want to hold onto what was. It is important for us to hold on to our diversity. If you have ever seen an area invaded by Garlic Mustard, it is the only plant you see. Lack of diversity results in a lack of wildlife.

Trout Lily colony
Trout Lily. Photo from Cathie Menzies.

What ISN’T there to Love about Trout Lilies?

- They feed our pollinators

- They’ve worked hard to be here

- Their symbiotic relationship helps keep the Ants fed

- Happy, well fed ants means fertilized soils that water flows through and plants thrive in.

I’m sure there is more to this string that we can unravel but we will leave it at this today.

Trout Lilies are awesome.

Trout Lily Corms. Photo from The 3 Foragers


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