poetry and prose about place

Trout-lily (Erythronium americanum Ker)

with 8 comments

Two weeks ago, we had a memorable drive and hike along the South Branch Dunbar Stream, north of Fredericton.  The wet hardwoods along the intervale areas of the stream were green with understory plants and dotted with spring wildflowers.  One of the plants growing there in profusion is the Trout Lily.  The Trout Lily is colonial, covering slopes in rich, moist hardwoods.  Its red and green mottled leaves grow thick on the hummocks, beside the Wood Anemone and Purple Trillium.  The area where we were hiking was not far from the stream and there was evidence it had been flooded earlier in the year.

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum Ker) is also known as the Dog’s Tooth Violet, Yellow Adder’s-tongue, Fawn-lily, and, in French, ail doux.  Its generic name is from the Greek erythros meaning ‘red’, a reference to the purple-flowered European species.

The Trout Lily was barely beginning its blooming when we were there, but it will be almost over by now.  The flowers usually bloom from March to May.  They are yellow and lily-like, with six divisions.  The petals curve backward as they mature.

The young leaves are edible but should only be gathered if they are very abundant in order to conserve the species.  To prepare the leaves for eating, clean them, boil them for 10 to 15 minutes and serve with vinegar.  The bulb-like ‘corm’ is also edible; it should be cooked about 25 minutes and served with butter.  Again, the bulbs should only be gathered if the plant is very plentiful, and only a small percentage of the plants should be harvested to enable the plant to thrive.  Also, the usual warning applies, only harvest if you are absolutely certain of the identification.



Trout Lily

(Erythronium americanum Ker)


on a hike in the hardwood

north of the Dunbar Stream

you discover Trout Lily in profusion

mottled purple, overlapping

as the scales of adder, dinosaur or dragon


you know these plants as edible

the leaves a salad, or pot-herb

and, deep underground, the corm

flavoured like garlic


you fall to your knees

to dig, to gather

and hesitate,

examine your motives –

you, with two granola bars in your knapsack

and a bottle of water from Ontario



©  Jane Tims  2012

1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

8 Responses

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  1. I always learn something when I visit your blog. Thank you. I love the drawing. I’ve never seen Trout-lily before.



    June 18, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    • Hi Robin. Once I learned the habitat (hardwood), I see it all the time. Glad you like the drawing! Jane


      jane tims

      June 19, 2012 at 6:42 am

  2. We have Whetstone Brook up here near where I live. I was just looking at your Trillium post for 6/2/12 and the photo you have of the stream there is somewhat like the lower portions of this brook. It’s a trout stream with three large waterfalls as you ascend the hill over about a quarter mile. They have turned it into a park over the last few years (the town has built up all around it fast becoming city) and since they are afraid of someone hurting themselves have fenced off all the places you could go before to investigate the area. On top of that they cleared out a lot of understory … just clearcut it… I almost cried. The next year the invasive species have taken over. You can see their vines everywhere now. The only thing they haven’t been able to spoil is the rushing water…. I go there sometimes just to hear the sound of the waterfalls. Pure music.



    June 2, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    • Hi Merrill. People sometimes have differing ideas about the characteristics of ‘parkland’. It sounds like in this case, they looked at the understory as an impediment to the view or to movement. We have a long way to go to educate people about ‘messy’ nature. Every manipulation of the understory seems to alter the habitat and destroy the ways our plants prefer! I am glad the area is still enjoyable ‘eyes closed’ but it’s too bad about the understory plants. Jane


      jane tims

      June 2, 2012 at 8:22 pm

  3. Thanks for another informative post, Jane. I particularly like the last stanza of your poem!


    Jane Fritz

    June 2, 2012 at 9:44 am

    • Hi Jane. Thanks for liking the last stanza. When I talk about common flowers, I have no problem promoting the harvesting of plants for eating. But for wildflowers in special habitats that continue to disappear, any harvest seems a sacrilege. Jane


      jane tims

      June 2, 2012 at 8:15 pm

  4. I’ve been told that these grow in this area although I have not ever seen them. But it’s one I keep looking for. I’m also becoming very discouraged by the invasive species growing so voraciously around here. Thanks for these photos, Jane They are always so good, with your explanatory drawings to go along with them, it’s a great help in ID.



    June 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    • Hi. The first thing to do is find the habitat… rich hardwoods near a stream. Let me know if you ever find them. Jane


      jane tims

      June 2, 2012 at 6:52 am

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