Friday, October 5, 2018

Unusual Spring Bulbs: Erythronium

If you are looking to add some early spring color under deciduous trees or shrubs, Erythronium are a terrific option.

Erythronium are woodland perennials that emerge early in April to take advantage of the sunshine before the trees overhead leaf-out. Within a short period of time they awake, bloom and store energy for the following year. Then Erythroniums slip quietly back into dormancy.

Though I have titled this post "Unusual Spring Bulbs" Erythronium aren't technically bulbs, they're corms. Very much like a bulb, a corm stores water and nutrients for a dormant plant. Erythronium
are planted at the same time as other spring bulbs, so they all tend to get lumped in together by many bulb suppliers and nurseries.

There are almost thirty different species of Erythronium most of which are native to North America. Erythronium Americanum (shown above) is a tiny wildflower native to the eastern half of Canada and U.S. 

Erythronium Americanum will often form large colonies of plants at different stages of development. Plants with a single leaf are young and will be flowerless until they mature. Trout Lilies that have two basal leaves will produce a nodding yellow flower on a bare reddish-brown scape.

A detailed look at the unusual foliage. You can just see the flower buds starting to emerge.

Each of the common names for Erythronium has a little something to tell you about the plant:

Dog-tooth Violet–it's a bit of a stretch, but the corms do somewhat resemble a dog's tooth. The corms are about an inch in length and are beige in color.

Fawn Lily–the leaves have the pointed shape of a young fawn's ears.

Adder's Tongue–the closed flower resembles the head of a snake.

Trout Lily–the brown mottling on the foliage looks a bit like the scales on a fish.

Erythronium 'Pagoda'

One of the Erythronium most commonly available is a hybrid named 'Pagoda'. It's a robust plant with large yellow flowers. 

Plants with white and pink blooms are a little harder to find (in Canada at any rate). They are also a bit pricier than the common yellow 'Pagoda'. Pink and white Erythroniums are beautiful plants, so it is well worth a search to find an online supplier. 

Planting Erythronium

Erythronium likes moist, slightly acidic soil with lots of organic matter.  You can grow them from seed, but you're in for a long wait. It can take as many as five years for a plant to mature enough to flower. It's much better to start with corms.

Erythronium is easily grown in part-shade at the feet of trees or shrubs. These are tiny flowers that grow no more than 4-6 inches tall, so I'd recommend planting them in groups of six or more.

Plant the thumb-sized corms in the fall along with other spring bulbs. Place them 2-3 inches deep and 4-5 inches apart.

Plant Type: Perennial

Height: 4-6 inches (10-15 cm)

Spread: 3-4 inches (7-10 cm)

Flower Color: White, Yellow, Pink

Bloom period: April/May

Leaf: Green leaves mottled with brown

Light: Part-shade to full shade

Water: Moist during the spring

Soil: Rich in organic matter

Companion Plants: Daffodils, Crocus, Snowdrops, Hellebores

Planting time: Fall

Deer resistant

Problems: None

USDA Zones: 3-8

Over the last few years, I have come to love the delicate flowers of my yellow Erythronium. Spring is off to a wonderful start when they begin to flower.

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  1. I think Erythronium would be a wonderful addition to my spring garden,Jennifer. A great enhancement to my favorite season. Thank you for this wonderful post! P. x

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