• Beth Kilgo

Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve: the Trout Lily

This is part three in a series of six articles about the Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve in Whigham, Ga. In this article, I discuss the trout lily found in the preserve and give more information about the flower.

All photos in this article were taken by the author.

With twenty to thirty species of trout lilies, the fact that the largest population of dimpled trout lilies is in Grady County seems much more astounding. Not restricted to the U.S. and Canada, the trout lilies also grow in Europe (one species) and in Asia (three species).

The trout lily’s leaves are said to resemble the speckled trout. The flower also has small “dimples” on its leaves, which help flower enthusiasts identify it from similar species.

There are also thin connections between the corm and the plant which looks like an umbilical cord, hence the name umbilicatum. The corm is a short, vertical underground plant stem that serves as a storage organ to help some plants to survive harsh conditions

The trout lily is endangered in Florida and was considered exceedingly rare in south Georgia before the Wolf Creek population was found. The population in Grady County is considered to be one of the products of Pleistocene refugia that allowed some colonies of plants that are now more suited for the north to remain in locations farther south. This occurred when the glaciers retreated north.

The land at Wolf Creek is ideal for the trout lilies, there are invasive exotics that threaten to choke out the lilies or inhibit their area. However, they are thinly spread on the slope and are removed monthly when the soil is damp, ensuring clean removal from the clay.

The particular species of trout lily at the Wolf Creek Preserve is the Erythronium umbilicatum, which grows in the southeastern part of the U.S. Along with the corm that allows the trout lilies to survive drought, the leaves are freeze resistant. Harsh cold might delay the bloom, but the plant won’t be harmed. After the plants enter dormancy, the lilies focus on spreading underground. For these reasons, the trout lilies are incredibly resilient.

First year plants have only one leaf. The older plants have two leafs, and the leaves increase in size over a few years. Each plant has to be four or five years old before it starts producing flowers and seed capsules. The dimpled trout lily spreads naturally by forming colonies. Before the second leaf is formed, the corm has to be deep enough in the soil so the temperature is uniform and there is no light. The corm is pulled deeper into the soil by the contractile roots, whose entire job is to ensure that the corm is deep enough into the soil.

Like most lilies, the flower is pollinated by flying insects and the wind. The seeds are spread by ants when the fallen seed capsule matures; these capsules usually contain five to twenty-five seeds and are left to germinate.

Trout lilies are perennials, meaning that they regrow every spring. They also have pendent flowers and mottled leaves. In Japan, the bulb of trout lilies is processed to make starch. The trout lilies are also grown as ornamental plants and have numerous hybrids.

For those who might want to purchase a trout lily for their garden, there will most likely be some for sale at the Old Timey Plant Sale, at Birdsong Nature Center on March 17,