I believe this is going to be a drawn-out wildflower season in the Potomac Gorge. In the past few years, I’ve observed that once the flowers start blooming, they bloom fast. The result is a spectacular mass of flowers all open at the same time, but then it ends quickly, too.
This year seems to be different, and I’m guessing it’s because of some early warm weather followed by many days of cool weather. I had a quick look ’round some favorite spots yesterday, and noticed that almost everything had closed up due to the overcast. A few more twinleaf had opened, but only a few.
Slow is not a bad thing. It means more time to find and photograph some favorites.
top: Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) enjoying a shaft of sunlight on Tuesday
bottom: Erythronium albidum (white trout lily) closed for the day on Thursday
Both of these species are known by the common names trout lily, fawn lily, adder’s tongue, and dogtooth violet, with or without the adjectives “white” or “yellow” in front. (Think I’ll just stay with Erythronium.) The names trout lily and fawn lily come from the speckles on the leaves. The name dog-tooth violet comes from a similar species native to Europe (E. dens-canis), whose bulb is said to resemble a dog’s tooth. I have no idea if adders have speckles on their tongues, nor am I going to conduct field research to find out.
Like so many other flowering plants at this time of year, the Erythroniums are spring ephemerals found in moist, rich woods. They grow in colonies by the hundreds, but only a few plants in a patch will flower in any year. I’ve read that it takes 3 to 4 years, or up to 7 years, for a plant to reach maturity and flower.
E. albidum can be found over most of the eastern part of the country (not in New England or some of the southern states), and is said to be more common in some areas than E. americanum is. It’s threatened in Maryland.
E. americanum can be found almost everywhere east of the Great Plains (except Florida), and is threatened in Iowa.
A third species, E. umbilicatum, can be found in Maryland, but I’ve never seen it. Twenty one more species of Erythronium (all natives) are found in the midlands or west coast.
(this post is dedicated to my friend Denise, because the graceful form of trout lilies reminds me of ballerinas)