Erythronium, the Greek name for the purple-flowered European species.

Perennial, growing in beds and patches in rich, moist open woods. New Brunswick to Florida, west to Minnesota and Arkansas. Abundant in northern Ohio. April, May.


Fibrous, from a corm deep in the ground.


Six to nine inches high, one-flowered, sheathed by two flat shining leaves, tapering into petioles.


Elliptical-lanceolate, smooth, shining, pale green, mottled with purplish, irregular patches.


Lily-shaped, solitary, nodding, pale yellow; of three sepals that look like petals, and three petals - all very much alike, together called perianth.


Six, filaments yellow, with broad bases and tapering to a point where the anthers join them; anthers yellow or red.


Pale green, somewhat three-sided; style long.


A plump, triangular capsule which splits into three sections when ripe; seeds many, crescent-shaped.

Pollinated by small bees, butterflies, and flies; also capable of self-fertilization. Nectar-bearing.

This little spring lily of the woodlands is a fascinating plant. Its leaves of pale, shining green, mottled with brownish purple often closely cover large, irregular areas in the open woods. Each nodding lily stands up between a pair of erect and pointed leaves, and in a large bed only a few of the plants produce flowers.

This lily is one of the earliest examples that April gives us of a flower in whose description we use the word perianth. Perianth means primarily the floral envelopes, whether calyx or corolla or both, but technically is applied to such flowers as the lily and the tulip, whose calyx and corolla are so similar in form and color that the early botanists were in doubt whether the floral envelope was all calyx or all corolla, and so compromised on the word perianth, which means both together. It is now clear that the outer three are calyx and the inner three corolla, but the old name is convenient and remains in use.

Studying our lily closely, we see that the three sepals are a little thicker in texture and brownish yellow outside; inside they are a pure yellow with a darker line where they join the stem. The three petals are pure yellow, paler outside than in, with dark spots near the heart of the flower where they join the stem; each has upon either side a tiny, ear-shaped lobe. The flower is extremely sensitive to the sunlight, expands in its warmth and nearly closes at night.

Adder's Tongue. Erythrenium Americanum

Adder's-Tongue. Erythrenium Americanum

The secret of these beds of Adder's-Tongues lies in the manner of the plant's reproduction. It has two ways of spreading: one by means of seeds, and the other through corms. Deep underground, at the base of the long, slender stem, lies the corm, about the size of a small hickory-nut or a large pea. A corm is the swollen base of a stem and is bulb-like in form but is solid, not made of layers like a bulb. It is a storehouse for plant food and also a means of spreading the species, for from each corm there grow little corms called cormels and each one of these produces a separate plant, and as a result these are all crowded together.

John Burroughs, writing of the Adder's-Tongue as he found it in grass-covered meadows, called attention to the brittle white threads which appear among the plants and sometimes above the ground. These he found were connected with the immature corms from which they penetrate the soil in various directions. A careful study has been made of the plant, and it is now known that these white threads are smooth, scaleless, subterranean runners, heavily charged with starch and that the tip encloses a bud which will in time become a corm. The corms formed at the end of the runner will send up a single leaf and will then send out more runners, and so the process is repeated until a very considerable bed is formed. It requires four years to develop a blooming corm, and the corm does not always bloom even at the end of four years. This accounts for the many sterile, one-leaved plants compared to the few two-leaved, blooming plants that are to be found in every bed.

The name Dog's-tooth Violet is foolish and inappropriate. Adder's-Tongue is unpleasantly suggestive. John Burroughs's suggestion of Faun Lily is excellent and should be adopted. The spotted leaves and the spotted faun both suggest the northern woods.

A plant similar in habit and aspect, Erythronium dlbidum, bearing pale lavender flowers, yellowish within at base, is rare in the Eastern States but frequent in northern Ohio and westward. Its specific name, albidum, so far as I know, is misapplied if it is understood as white.