Trout Lilies

There are two kinds: the slightly more common white trout lily which is actually pinkish, and the Minnesota trout lily, found in rare southeast Minnesota forests like Nerstrand Woods in Goodhue County. That one, I’ve never seen. But in an alley not far from my house, I’ve chanced upon a patch of the stippled low trout-shaped leaves which just now are emerging. They live behind an unused garage, under a stand of small river elms, though I guess the flowers have been there a long time.

Why so? Because surreptitiously, a few springs ago, I brought my trowel and dug up a tiny patch near the pavement, justifying this theft by the notion that sooner-or-later a car would run over them. Transplanted to a likely spot in my cool, shaded front yard, beside Virginia water-leaf and white violets, these trout lilies reappeared the next spring, but have yet to show a flower. This suggests that white trout lilies are of a shy, resistant type, found also among humans, who take long to acclimate to change, and much prefer their familiar retiring haunts, their brief leaf and flowering.

Since I sometimes believe I belong among them–entirely forgetting my outbursts of activity and bossy directives–I hold close this secret knowledge, believing it is mine to protect, knowing what can happen when living things become neighborhood darlings, become hybridized for sturdiness, and soon appear up and down the street, in every plant-lover’s yard.

The white trout lily will soon send up short dewdrop blossoms which then will open into lively dancing six-legged stars, upside-down stars, that is. These will nod and sway over the stippled leaves, a bit like trout mouths leaping to the survace to catch the sky. But soon the blossoms will die away, as will the leaves, which fold themselves down into the duff until, by mid-May, all are erased until another year.

According to the John and Evelyn Moyle “Northland Wildflowers: The Comprehensive GUide to the Minnesota Region,” the other, rarer trout lily was first described by Mary Hedges of Faribault in 1871. She sent a sample to Asa Grey, the famed botanist at Harvard, who proclaimed its distinction from its slightly more common cousin and gave it its botanical name: erythronium propullans, to distinguish it from the cousin with the same first name, but different last: albidum. I won’t investigate these Latin nomikers just now. But dwell a bit with unknown Mary Hedges and her consultation with Grey. She had to have been a school teacher, given to solitary woodland walks, and sharp-eyed perusal of tiny shoots. Or maybe a photographer, likewise drawn to the unusual and small. Like my friend Linda Gammell, who bends down to captures prairie rose hips and other more wispy plants.

Let’s walk on, content that for another year, despite the debris that a building neighbor strew across the eastern portion of the trout lily strip, the section still uncluttered offers a lovely school of unexpected green fish to early spring.

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