Thursday, April 30, 2015
Trout Lily Buds And Flowers
Several years preceding my retirement were filled with dreams focused on how to pleasantly use endless days filled with free time. John Burroughs' writings described his time spent tramping about outside close to nature. That brought back pleasant memories of much of my childhood time spent doing exactly the same thing. A picture of a retirement lifestyle defined by living on remote private land gradually came into clear focus. In 1994 dreams became reality with the purchase of the last piece of a former farm.
Trout lily was first encountered by me in a Burroughs' essay entitled Among The Wild Flowers. It was there that he suggested several names more appropriate for this plant than the then used Adder's Tongue or Dog Tooth Violet. Lily had to be in the name since the structure of the flower is not a violet but is a lily. Trout accurately reflected a fish very popular to Burroughs and the timing of that fish rising to the surface of the water to feed on the first hatch of insects at the same time of year that these flowers appeared. His suggested name became widespread and remains in common use today. Erythronium americanum was well known to me because of frequent rereadings of this essay before I ever found the plant growing in the wild.
I was as giddy as a child on Christmas morning when a trout lily in flower was first found in our newly purchased woods. A single yellow blossom floated above twin fresh green leaves that were mottled with brown patches. All of this striking color had just pushed above the brown fallen leaves that carpeted the forest floor. Further exploration revealed single leaved plants by the hundreds but only an occasional twin leaved plant in bloom. The relative lack of flowers here made the rare find of a yellow lily flower seem precious to me.
Burroughs also wondered about just how a trout lily plant produced flowers. Seeds fell to the forest floor and the life cycles that followed took the lily bulb ever deeper into the soil. When the bulb was more than six inches under ground, two leaves and a flower were produced. At more shallow placements only a single leaf grew. Here the glacier left extremely stone filled soil and few bulbs are able to reach the deep placement necessary for flower production. In our more than two decades spent living here we have seen many single leaved plants return year after year but the flowering plants remain rare.
A careful look at the above photo will find a flower bud still tightly wrapped by the second leaf. Its job is to protect the bud as it is pushed thru several inches of soil and the web that is typical of the forest floor. How such a delicate flower can open unmarked after such a journey remains a source of wonder.
This bud is almost ready to push free of the leaf. Following years of preparation, this beautiful flower will last for only a short time. It will be replaced by a seed capsule containing the beginnings of another generation of plants few of which will ever flower.