Yes, it has been rainy and cold, and we’ve seen our first snow. But it’s not too early to begin planning hikes through the woods to spot the first of the native wildflowers that begin blooming in early February. Some will even begin blooming as early as mid January if the weather remains unseasonably warm for a period of time.
One of the most unique early-flowering natives is the Erythronium, or Trout Lily. These dainty flowers bloom as early as February and continue through April. They bloom for only a three-week period, but the elevation and winter temperatures will determine which of those months you will be able to find them in bloom. This flower ranges from Ontario, through the Appalachians, south to Florida and Alabama. Trout Lilies like light shade in deciduous forests with moist, humus-rich soil. If left alone, these beautiful native flowers will naturalize quite well.
Trout lilies grow from deeply buried corms. These bulblike structures are narrow, pointed at the top and flat on the root end. The bulb shape is like a dog’s tooth, leading to its other common name, the dog-toothed violet.
Each trout lily generally has only two leaves, but a third small leaf may appear. These leaves are only 2 to 3 inches long with patches of green, brown and purple speckling the smooth green blade. This coloration leads to its common name, as the speckling is similar to that found on a trout.
While the leaves are very distinctive, the blooms are really the easiest way to spot the trout lily. Our southern trout lily has a single yellow flower that looks much like a miniature daylily bloom. While it appears to have six petals, the trout lily actually has three petals and three sepals, which curve deeply back towards the stem.
If you are lucky enough to find some trout lily corms for your garden, they should be planted in summer or fall, four to six inches apart, and 3 to 5 inches below the surface of the ground. Mature trout lilies can be separated and planted immediately in either summer or fall, but must be planted deeply. Some trout lily bulbs have been found as deep as 18 inches. Keep this in mind if you plan to dig and divide your trout lilies. They should never be dug for transplanting while in bloom.
After the blooms fade and fall off, seedpods are formed. These seedpods are somewhat triangular and appear in late April or early May. When the seedpod changes from green to yellowish they eject many brown, crescent-shaped seeds. You can easily collect these seeds by placing a small brown bag over the seed pod, securing it with a twist tie. Seeds should be planted 3 to 5 inches deep. Plants grown from seed may take three to five years to blooms, so patience is a must.
These plants need plenty of water in the spring, but can tolerate less water in summer. They should not be allowed to dry out completely.
You should never dig native plants from public property, or property that does not belong to you. There are many nurseries that specialize in native plants, so search the Internet if you don’t have access to these plants.
To learn more about these, or any other native plants, you are invited to attend meetings of the West Georgia Chapter of the Native Plant Society. Meetings are held the third Tuesday of every even numbered month at the Ag Center in Carrollton. The meetings begin at 7 p.m. The next meeting will be on Feb. 19. Programs include tips for identifying our native plants, how to propagate them, and how to maintain them. For information about the organization or its meeting times, visit the website at http://wgawildflowers.org.
Hight is a Carroll County Master Gardener Extension Volunteer.