Trout Lily: A native ephemeral wild flower, harbinger of Spring

The Trout Lily: A native ephemeral flower that blooms in the Greenbelt in Springtime 

By Pawel Pieluszynski

After the cold and dark days of our northeastern winters have waned, a diminutive local harbinger of spring’s brighter, warmer days carpets the quiet wooded slopes of the Greenbelt. 

It’s a well-rounded botanical beauty, not only renowned for its gorgeous, delicate flower whose color evokes the springtime sun, but also for its handsome set of blue-green mottled leaves from which this floral wonder gets its common name. We are talking about, of course, the trout lily, Erythronium americanum.

The trout lily, a true member of the well-known lily family, is a native spring ephemeral flower. A spring ephemeral is a type of plant that grows and flowers in the very early days of spring, and silently fades into dormancy as the hot summer approaches, much like the familiar tulips and daffodils of the horticultural world. 

While individually small and delicate, these lilies often form vast colonies, some of which can be hundreds of years old, and seeing a large swath of these cheerful nodding flowers in places such as High Rock Park is quite the awe-evoking sight. 

Trout lilies, as well as other native spring ephemerals, need undisturbed woodland habitat to thrive, which has sadly been lost in other places of New York City due to development, invasive species, and over-browsing by deer. However, a great deal of these woodlands has been thankfully preserved in the ever-important Staten Island Greenbelt, ensuring the trout lily can express its springtime greeting for generations to come. 

Pawel Pieluszynski is a naturalist from Staten Island. He is a Gardener for Brooklyn Bridge Park, and formerly worked in the Greenbelt’s Natural Resources division. Photos are by the author.