Spring ephemeral feature: Trout lilies

Enjoy northern Michigan's spring ephemeral with a Woman Owning Woodlands Walk!

Trout lily flowers are a welcome sight in the woods in the early spring.
Trout lily flowers are a welcome sight in the woods in the early spring. All photos by Georgia Peterson, MSU Extension.

Spring has been slow to arrive in Michigan this year, but the plants in our northern forests are defying the unseasonable cold and beginning to show themselves. The collection of early spring wildflowers that're commonly called spring ephemerals are some of the first to appear. They're important early sources of food for pollinating insects like bees, butterflies, moths and beetles. They can be valuable nectar sources for early hummingbirds as well. These wildflowers are considered ephemeral because they grow, bloom, and become dormant in a relatively short period of time when the tree canopy hasn't completely leafed out, thus taking advantage of ample spring sunlight that can reach the forest floor.

One of the first to "wake up" is the yellow trout lily, sometimes called the yellow dogtooth violet (specifically titled Erythronium americanum). Large colonies or single or paired, stiff, waxy, upright leaves begin to show through the previous season's fallen leaves very soon after the last snow melts and the sun has had a chance to warm the soil. Trout lily leaves are a mottled, dark olive green to brown, which some describe as looking similar to the markings of brown or brook trout. The flowers appear soon afterwards, rising on three-to-six inch long singular stalks in-between the base of the paired leaves. The nodding yellow blossoms curl back to show off chestnut brown stamens. Large colonies of these flowers develop over long periods of time, favoring moist, rich soils along forest bottomlands. 


Trout lily leaves are often found intermingled with other spring ephemerals, like these blossoming bloodroot and emerging trillium.

Looking for a good opportunity to see trout lilies and all other spring ephemerals? Join an upcoming woods walk sponsored by the Leelanau Conservation District and the Women Owning Woodlands (WOW) program* to learn about these special forest dwellers! Kama Ross, the Conservation District Forester, will also share her knowledge about how to be a more active forest steward. This spring ephemeral WOW walk will be held on Saturday, May 18 from 10 a.m. to noon on private property near Omena, MI. Participants will meet at the Omena Presbyterian Church (5098 North West Bay Shore Drive, Omena, MI 49674), and carpool to the property from there. Admission is free, but registration is required. Contact Kama Ross at 231-256-9783 or kama.s@macd.org to register. 

*Although WOW walks are led by women professionals, and centered on giving women the chance to learn about land management in a comfortable setting, these events are open to all. Visit the national website for more information, or contact Georgia Peterson, Natural Resources Extension Specialist, Michigan State University Extension, at petersog@msu.edu or 517-353-9435, for more information.

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