Trout Lily Lessons

The first trout lilies have started to flower, just a hint of the thousands that will bloom in the coming month. They are part of the reason I named my garden Trout Cove. I was inspired both by the trout stream running through my property with its tiny coves, and these beautiful blankets of wildflowers that cover the ridges of my cove forest with yellow for most of the month.

Trout lilies are named for their mottled leaves resembling the brown trout swimming nearby in my creek. Their bright yellow flowers attract a variety of pollinators, especially bees. Bees are apparently greedy feeders, removing half of the pollen in a visit as they spend quite a bit of time filling up the pollen baskets on their legs and heading straight home. As an adaptation the flowers produce two sets of anthers, opening on separate days to ensure cross pollination.

Later, their seeds are dispersed by ants in a mutually beneficial symbiosis. The seeds have elaiosomes, attached structures high in calories and nutrients. Worker ants carry them to their colonies, and after a feast they either throw out or bury the seeds. This mutualism with ants is called myrmecochory, and it allows plants to disperse to new locations where they can produce new colonies. These small nodding flowers are easy to walk by, but the closer you look, the more you see. There are miniature dramas every day revealing the interdependence of wildlife. The trout lily offers flowers and fruit to insect visitors, and in turn they are pollinated and dispersed to slowly fill the forest. There is symmetry in the trout swimming under the cool waters of the creek’s coves and the flowers blooming on the cove forest hillside above. These small lives intersect in ways that shape the wider world around us. Nature always has many stories to tell for those willing to watch and listen.