Long before anything is in bloom in the Illinois oak woods, the close mats of moss and bare ground and leaf-strewn woods floor contain small red spears thrusting into the sunlight. There are hundreds of them, thousands of them, tight and narrow and sharply pointed, poking up from deeply set bulbs in the cold earth of very early springtime. The trout lilies are about to keep appointment with the spring.
Erythronium albidum Nutt.
Early spring Woods.
With the scant warmth of March and early April, the shoots grow rapidly and in a few days the red color is gone and the shoots have unfurled into pairs of pale green leaves decorated with pale purple-brown mottlings overlaid with a silvery sheen.
There is one bud stalk to a plant, two leaves to a blossoming size plant. There is no wasted greenery, no unnecessary growth of stem or bud. The flower on a damp spring morning uncurls, and three while petals and three white sepals washed with purplish on the backs push backward; the six pale yellow stamens thrust outward with the three-forked pistil extending still further. Waxen, fragrant, lovely as a miniature Easter lily, standing by thousands through the oak woods in springtime, the trout lily, the adders tongue, the dog-tooth violet, blossoms briefly and is gone. It is one of the quickest flowers to come into bloom at the close of winter, one of the quickest to make seeds. Before April is over, most of the leaves have turned yellow and have disappeared, and in the whole broad oak woods there may be no sign that trout lilies in a white and perfumed crowd bloomed as soon as the time was right.