Look out for Lilies in our Prairies this Spring

March 15, 2021 | News

We have entered the month in which spring officially begins! Original, unplowed prairies and prairie plantings will soon have hints of green as plant shoots emerge. One of many special plants to look out for on original prairies, and some glades and savannas, is prairie trout lily (Erythronium mesochoreum).

While the white trout lily (E. albidum) is fairly common, usually in wooded and forested habitats, prairie trout lily is restricted to intact native grassland habitats.

Prairie and white trout lily both have singular white flowers with yellow stamens, and both bloom March through May, but there are several characteristic that distinguish the two, as provided by the Illinois Natural History Survey and other references:
–Prairie trout lily occurs in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, eastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and north-central Texas. The white trout lily’s range is broader—throughout the Midwest, north through Minnesota, south to Texas, and east to New York
–Prairie trout lily petals do not bend back; white trout lily’s petals are bent back.
–Prairie trout lily leaves are narrower, folded along their length, and usually lack speckling. The speckling of the leaves of white trout lily led to the common name trout lily, referring to their resemblance to the markings on a trout.
–The fruit of prairie trout lily droops to the ground at maturity, whereas with white trout lily, the fruit is held erect.
–With prairie trout lily plants, proportionally more plants flower. This is in contrast to the white trout lily, which can carpet the understory of woods with its leaves (like a school of trout!), while only a few blooms make their appearance.

Many of MPF’s original prairies provide habitat for prairie trout lily—one of the thousands of plant and animal species that make up the rare prairie community. Explore MPF’s prairies here.

Above, prairie trout lily, photographed by Bruce Schuette at MPF’s Linden’s Prairie.

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