Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 1213 Erythronium spp.

Common Names: dimpled trout lily, yellow trout lily, American trout lily, yellow adder's tongue Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)
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dimpled trout lily
It's February and the dimpled trout lily is in bloom, carpeting the forest floor at the Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve in southwestern Georgia.
dimpled trout lily
Dimpled trout lily blossom


Dimpled trout lily is a small woodland herb that appears on the forest floor briefly in early spring. Trout lilies grow from a pointy fleshy corm, often referred to as a bulb. Plants may or may not have short stolons that give rise to additional nearby plants. The dimpled trout lily has just two elliptic leaves, about 2-6 in (5-15 cm) long, and these clasp the erect stem. The leaves are smooth, mottled with brownish purple and said to resemble the skin of a trout (huh?). The single yellow flower nods from the top of a scape (flower stem) about 8 in (20 cm) tall. The pretty flower is a bright sulfur-yellow, sometimes with brownish or purplish flecks. The six tepals are strongly reflexed and the brown or purplish anthers protrude conspicuously beyond them.

There are two species of yellow flowered trout lilies in eastern North America, and they are very similar in appearance. The other, much more widespread, and often more common (especially in the north), is E. americanum, usually known as yellow trout lily, American trout lily, or yellow adder’s tongue.

The chief differences between the two are (1) the leaves of the dimpled trout lily are smooth and glossy, whereas the leaves of the yellow trout lily are glaucus, covered with a fine grayish bloom that is easily rubbed off with a finger; (2) the fruit capsules of dimpled trout lilies lie on the ground, whereas those of the yellow trout lily do not; (3) the stigma lobes (at the tip of the pistil) of the dimpled trout lily are spread out, whereas those of the yellow are erect or even curved inward; and (4) the dimpled trout lily has a dimple on the end of the fruit where the style has dropped off ,and the yellow trout lily has no dimple and the style persists on the fruit.


Erythronium umbilicatum has a small range restricted to the SE U.S. from KY and TN to WV and MD, and south to northern FL. The species is rare in Florida where it is known from just three counties, and listed as an Endangered Species. The related E. americanum occurs throughout most of eastern North America from Ontario to Nova Scotia, south to LA and GA. Both trout lilies occur in upland hardwood forests, amongst the fallen leaves beneath a canopy of oaks, magnolias, beeches, hickories and other hardwoods. They also sometimes persist in moist pastures where hardwood forests once stood. Trout lilies don’t occur everywhere, but where they do they sometimes carpet the forest floor in large, spectacular swaths.

The largest show of the dimpled trout lily is at Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve in southern Georgia, where the little yellow flowers grow in an almost solid carpet covering about 15 acres under a canopy of southern hardwoods. Here, the leaves emerge in January, the flowers bloom for two weeks in February, and the plants go dormant in April.


Light: The trout lilies emerge from their bulbs in very early spring while the trees above them are still without leaves. They seem to thrive in the light dappled shade. By the time the canopy has more thoroughly shaded the forest floor, the trout lilies have withered and gone back to sleep. Moisture: Trout lilies need a moist but well drained soil, rich in organic matter. Their soil should never dry out completely. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8. Dimpled trout lily is restricted to USDA zones 6-8, and yellow trout lily occurs in zones 3-8. Propagation: The trout lilies (usually) spread by short runners called stolons. Offsets can be divided from the mother plant after flowering. Bulbs should be planted at least 4 in (10 cm) deep. Trout lilies grow slowly (their leaves see the sun for such a short period), and seedlings take four or five years to reach flowering stage.

yellow trout lily
Early April is when the yellow trout lilies begin to bloom in Northern Kentucky.
yellow trout lily
The flowers of the dimpled and yellow trout lilies are very similar, distinguished from each other by only subtle differences.


Trout lilies are best when allowed to naturalize in moist soil under deciduous trees. The yellow trout lily spreads faster than the dimpled. Either can be planted in clumps in thin grass or used in a rock garden. They need a soil rich in humus and organic material. Trout lilies are perfect companions for trillium (Trillium underwoodii) , wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), May apple (Podophyllum peltatum), various violets (Viola sororia, for example), and other little springtime forest-floor beauties.


There are about two dozen species of trout lilies occurring mainly in North America, with a few in Asia and Europe. All are small, spring-blooming forest-floor perennials with two leaves and nodding flowers with recurved tepals.

Trout lilies sometimes occur in large masses, putting on a spectacular show for two or three weeks in early spring.

Steve Christman 3/16/14

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Erythronium species profiled on Floridata:

Erythronium spp.

( dimpled trout lily, yellow trout lily, American trout lily, yellow adder's tongue )

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