Erythronium americanum (Trout lily, Dogtooth violet) — an early-blooming wildflower — 2013-03-13

After a few days of cold rain and even some snow flurries, I was getting cabing fever. So, when the morning broke clear but a bit cold, I decided to make a visit to a couple of wildflower sites in the upstate of South Carolina. The first of these sites is a site owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. These are places that have been set aside because of significantly rare flora, fauna, or archeological presence. Some are just a few acres, whereas others are more than 1000 acres. There are dozens of these preserves in the state — many being in the upstate near where I live.

The target for today’s visit was one of the first wildflowers to bloom during the calendar year — Erythronium americanum. This species has two frequently used common names: Trout lily and Dogtooth violet. It is not a violet but it is a lily. The name, Trout lily, was probably chosen because the fuzzy, mottled pattern on the leaves resembles the pattern on the belly of the local brook trout. The name, Dogtooth violet was probably chosen because of the shape of the flower’s yellow petals white, underground bulb/corm. Thanks to my friend, Charles, I now know the true source for the common name, Dogtooth violet.

Trout lily

When I got to the first site, Nine Times Preserve in Pickens County, the flowers were in considerable shade and were not yet open:

Apparently, it was too cool, and there was not enough sunlight on the flowers to warm them up enough to open. So, I took a few photographs and proceeded to another site in Greenville County where I have photographed this wildflower on other occasions. This next site was a state Heritage Preserve called Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve. I had visited there a couple of weeks previous, but I had seen only leaves, not buds or flowers. Today, there were quite a few flowers open in the filtered sunlight:

While photographing this early wildflower, I noticed that there was one of my favorite clubmosses growing nearby, Huperzia lucidula or Shining clubmoss:

Shining clubmoss

This is a wonderful, evergreen plant that I’m always on the lookout for when I’m in the woods of the upstate. It’s about 5 inches (2 cm) tall, and is easily seen against the forest’s brown leaf litter.

All considered, it was a very good day! I can hardly wait to go back out into the field. This is so much fun, and it keeps me off the streets…

— Jim


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  1. Great pictures. I can never decide whether to photograph as is or try to tilt them back to get the flowers face. The ones I’ll see during the last week of March will be on steep slopes and I usually can get good photos from the downhill side. I’m looking hard for the white variety this year.
    Did I read somewhere once that the corm of this plant resembles the canine or ‘dog tooth’ of a dog? Hence the name. Could have dreamed that, this snow is causing me to become delusional. We have six inches on ground and a major storm for the middle of the week that may be measured in feet of snow.

  2. Really nice photography. For someone who doesn’t really have an idea how big these flowers are, do you think you could, on 1 photo, include some type of measuring device.

    1. Sorry, Scott. I actually intended to do just that, but left my metric ruler at home that day. I suppose I could have used a coin or something similar, but I just got carried away with the moment… The flowers are no more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) across and the bloom stalk is about 3 inches (7.5 cm) tall. Hope that helps…

  3. Jim,

    You are most likely using a tripod and a remote shutter release. If you are, just put your thumb in the picture and we will know the size.


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