Yellow Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum)*
Hunting them, a man must sweat, bear
the whine of a mosquito in his ear,
grow thirsty, tired, despair perhaps
of ever finding them, walk a long way.
He must give himself over to chance,
for they live beyond prediction.
He must give himself over to patience,
for they live beyond will. He must be led
along the hill as by a prayer.
If he finds them anywhere, he will find
a few, paired on their stalks,
at ease in the air as souls in bliss.
I found them here at first without hunting,
by grace, as all beauties are first found.
I have hunted and not found them here.
Found, unfound, they breathe their light
into the mind, year after year.
"The Lilies" by Wendell Berry from New Collected Poems. © Counterpoint, 2012.
*The yellow (Erythronium americanum) and white (E. albidum) Trout lilies are synonymous with early spring ephemeral woodland wildflowers. These small (4 - 6" tall) members of the lily family can put on quite a show when a cluster of them is in full flower. These lilies take seven years to mature and when mature have two mottled basal leaves. The flowers have six tepals (three sepals and three petals) and open during the day (to the extent that they are recurved when fully open) and close at night (to protect the pollen on the showy reddish or yellow anthers.) These are deep-rooted plants and roots can go 8" deep and highly organic or sandy-loam soils are required for these species to thrive. Because these plants flower so early (often in March) the leaves disappear often by the first of May.
Trout lilies are often called Fawn lilies (due to the mottled or spotted leaves and the appearance that resembles a fawn's ears) or Dog-tooth violets because the corms supposedly resemble a dog's tooth and the flowers resemble violets. The name Trout lily is given because of the mottled leaves and the blooming of the flowers during trout fishing season. It is sometimes called Adder's tongue because of the tongue-like flower shape of the flowering shoot as it emerges in the spring and resembles the open mouth of a snake. Both species are found across the state of Kentucky and are common. Supposedly the corm is edible and tastes like a cucumber.
By Dr. Thomas Barnes, from Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife.