Erythronium americanum Ker

Erythronium americanum plant

Family - Liliaceae

Habit - Perennial forb with deep bulblike corms.

Stems - Aerial scapes to 20 cm, ascending to erect, unbranched, glabrous. Stolons produced, typically 2-5 per corm.

Leaves - Basal, petiolate, typically two per fertile plant, (one leaf on sterile plants). Blades 1.5-7.0 cm wide, lanceolate to narrowly ovate or elliptic, entire, flat, glabrous, not glaucous, usually somewhat mottled with brown.

Erythronium americanum leafLeaf.

Inflorescence - Single flower terminating scape, typically only one per plant. Flower nodding.

Flowers - Perianth of 6 tepals, glabrous, strongly reflexed, yellow, sometimes tinged with orange, brown, or green, the petals lacking appendages or with a basal pair of poorly developed, broadly triangular to rounded appendages, if present these not wrapped around the filament of the opposing stamen. Stamens 6, fused to base of tepals. Filaments to 1.7cm long, 1.5mm broad, yellow, glabrous. Anthers 1.3 cm long, red or purple. Stigma 1, 3-lobed, 0.5-1.5 mm long, the lobes stout, spreading. Ovary 1.3 cm long, 3-angled, 3-locular, green, glabrous, superior. Placentation axile.

Erythronium americanum flowerFlower.

Erythronium americanum flower2

Erythronium americanum flower3

Fruits - Obovate capsules, the tips broadly rounded or straight across, sometimes with a minute apiculum at the very tip, positioned off the ground by the ascending or gradually spreading aerial stem, usually not erect.

Flowering - March - May.

Habitat - Mesic forests, ravines, along streams, slopes.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Lookalikes - Erythronium rostratum.

Other info. - In Missouri this striking species is found mainly in the southeastern (eastern Ozark) region. Elsewhere its distribution is mostly to our northeast, to the Atlantic coast and into Canada. The yellow flowers are easy to spot against the leaf litter of the woods. This species can be found in colonies of sterile, one-leaved plants along with a few fertile, two-leaved plants. The closely related E. rostratum appears similar, but that species has triangular appendages at the base of the petals which wrap around the opposing stamens. This distinction is far easier to observe in fresh plants than pressed, dried material, so determinations should be made carefully in the field.

Seeds of the plant bear oily elaiosomes. These attract ants which aid in dispersal of the seeds. However, seed set is poor, so plants have alternative vegetative strategies for reproduction. These include horizontal stolons, small offsets of the corm, or new corms which form on the ends of specialized underground stems called "droppers." Dense colonies of the plant can thus form over time.

Erythronium americanum colony
Small portion of colony.

Traditionally the bulbs and leaves of this species were eaten, either raw or cooked. The plant was also used medicinally to heal ulcers and as a contraceptive. However, plant tissues also reportedly have emetic properties. The common name "trout lily" apparently derives from the fancied resemblance of the mottled leaves to lake trout.

Photographs taken at Silver Mines Recreation Area, Madison County, MO, 4-8-2019 (SRTurner).


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