I spotted this charmer in a little forest park outside of Ísafjorður, in the Westfjords. I was wearing contact lenses at the time so couldn’t make out any details (I usually wear glasses when I’m shooting, since I see much better close up with them). All I saw was spotted leaves and a spike with pinkish flowers. The general form made me think monocot (correct), and the spots reminded me of trout lily, so I was thinking maybe it was in the Liliaceae (wrong).
As soon as I got the pics on the computer and zoomed in I saw my mistake. This is an orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata. The English common name is heath spotted orchid. In Icelandic it’s brönugrös.
It’s one thing to have read that orchids are found the world ’round (except Antarctica), in most habitats, but quite another to trip upon one in Iceland when you aren’t expecting it. I was so happy!
In Iceland, heath spotted orchid is rather common within its range, but its range isn’t too extensive. It’s found in some coastal areas but not the central highlands. It’s a subarctic plant that ranges through northern Europe, further south in Europe in the mountains, and even parts of North Africa.
This species does not grow in North America, but three other Dactylorhiza species do, including one that’s endangered in Maryland.
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)