Show Me Your Auricles!

Recent chatter on various internet forums and mention of The Trout Lily Project got me interested in learning more about the Erythroniums. Twenty four species of them are native to North America; of these, E. albidum (see yesterday’s post) and E. americanum (pictured in this post) are by far the most widespread. All of the others are west coast or midwest species, with two exceptions: E. rostratum and E. umbilicatum. The latter is found in the southeast, as far north as Maryland.


USDA PLANTS Database shows it present in Maryland, but lacks county-level data. The Biota of North America Project shows it present in Montgomery, Cecil, and Garret counties, while The Flora of North America shows it in the southern part of the state. The Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records for it.

Two characteristics distinguish E. americanum from E. umbilicatum. The latter has a dimple on top of the ovary, where the style attaches, while the former has a persistent style that attaches without a dimple. The other difference is the presence of auricles (“ears”) at the inside base of each tepal of E. americanum; E. umbilicatum does not have auricles.

Also, anther color varies from pure yellow to dark red in E. americanum. There is some thought that E. umbilicatum has more purplish anthers, but this characteristic is deemed unreliable. So to tell the difference, you have to look at the ovaries and look for auricles.

Which is why every time I see a dark-anthered trout lily, I’m down on knees and elbows, glasses off, gently poking back the petals and squinting at the insides.

I would love to be able to submit a record of dimpled trout lily to MBP. So far, no luck. All the trout lilies I’ve looked at have auricles and lack dimples.

Whenever possible I photo-illustrate my posts with my own pictures, but of course I have none of dimpled trout lily. For pictures and more information, go to the link at the start of this post. Also go to the MBP page for American trout lily and scroll down to Bill Harms’ photo of tepals and ovary, then have a look at Carolina Nature’s dimpled trout lily page.

UPDATE fellow blogger and citizen botanist botanybill sent this photo of E. americanum, Thanks for showing us the auricles, Bill!

10 thoughts on “Show Me Your Auricles!

  1. Great post. As of today, the Natural Heritage Program of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has not validated the existence of E. umbilicatum in Maryland. Maybe some citizen botanist/naturalist will find it first.

  2. The Natural Heritage Program passes the validation of species to the Maryland Biodiversity Program for inclusion in the MBP list.

  3. If you ever get to Greenbrier State Forest in SE WV, check out the camp sites. I found a plant of E. umbilicatum growing in one at the north end of the campground. It was in fruit during there annual wildflower weekend, probably about ten years ago. I don’t know whether they still have the scheduled weekends. I think this is the location of Kate’s Mountain and the original location for Kate’s Mountain Clover. It is also one of three WV counties and several VA where Sword Leaf Phlox (Phlox buckleyi) grows. I found several plants of Sword Leaf Phlox growing along the main road through the forest, from the highway to the campground.

    • I really do need to expand my horizons… Joe, if I were able to take, say, a 4-day roadtrip at the beginning of May, where would you recommend I go? Probably north, right? Any good wildflower areas in PA or NY or VT…?

      • I’m the wrong the person to ask. I tend to stay close to home and do day trips. The only place I’ve been in NY was on I-95 when I was going to coastal Connecticut in the 1980’s for a tropical fish show. That was also the only time I was in New England. Since I moved from Frederick County to Allegany County, I’ve started to explore more of Western Maryland as well as deeper into WV and south-central and south-western PA. I’ve only taken a few short trips since the last long trip in 1968, when I traveled for the fourth time across the country with my family, and most of those were to organized weekend events like Millersville in PA (too much Horticulture), Wintergreen in VA (on the east side of the Blue Ridge) and Greenbrier in WV.

  4. Pingback: Irises: Identifying the Nearly Identical | Elizabeth's Wildflower Blog

  5. Pingback: The Spring Ephemerals, part 4: Trout Lilies and Toadshade | Elizabeth's Wildflower Blog

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