Growing Dogtooth Violets: Learn About Dogtooth Violet Trout Lily

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Dogtooth violet trout lily (Erythronium albidum) is a perennial wildflower that grows in woodlands and mountain meadows. It is commonly found across much of the eastern United States. The nectar-rich little blooms are highly attractive to a variety of native bees.

Removing wildflowers from their natural setting isn’t beneficial to the environment and usually isn’t successful. If you’re thinking about growing dogtooth violets in your garden, look for the bulbs or plants at nurseries that specialize in native plants. Once the plant is established in your garden, it is easily propagated by digging and replanting the offsets in late summer.

What Does a Dogtooth Violet Look Like?

Dogtooth violet isn’t a violet and the drooping, lily-like blooms are actually white with a subtle, violet tint. The flowers, which bloom in early spring, open in morning and close in evening. Each flower is accompanied by two bright green leaves marked with reddish brown, trout-like spots. The plant is named for the small underground bulb, which resembles a dog’s pointed canine tooth. Mature height of a dogtooth violet plant is 6 to 12 inches (15-31 cm.).

Planting Dogtooth Violet Bulbs

There isn’t much effort needed when growing dogtooth violets in the woodland garden. Dogtooth trout lily performs well in a location in dappled sunlight or light shade, such as a spot under a deciduous tree. Although dogwood trout lily prefers moist soil, it benefits from drier soil during its dormant period in summer and fall.

To plant dogtooth violet bulbs, loosen the soil with a garden fork or spade, then plant the small bulbs, pointy end up, about 5 inches (13 cm.) apart, with approximately 2 inches (5 cm.) between each bulb. Water well to settle the soil around the bulbs. The bulbs will develop roots in the fall.

Care of Dogtooth Trout Lily

Water dogtooth trout lily as needed throughout the growing season, then decrease water after blooming. Usually one deep watering per week is plenty.

Don’t be tempted to remove foliage after dogtooth trout lily stops blooming. In order to produce flowers the following year, the bulbs require food created when energy is absorbed by the leaves. Wait until the leaves die down and turn yellow.

A loose mulch, such as dried, chopped leaves, will protect the bulbs during the winter.

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Dog's-tooth violet

Dog’s-tooth violet is known by a host of common names that include yellow trout lily, yellow fawn lily, and yellow adder’s tongue. No matter the name, this native woodland wildflower (which, surprisingly, is not a member of the violet family) is a harbinger of spring in the shade garden. It spreads slowly to form colonies of mottled strappy foliage—similar in appearance to the skin of a spotted trout—below stems of nodding lilylike flowers in sunny yellow.

Tuck this tiny spring bloomer into shade gardens, woodland plantings, and shaded areas of rock gardens where it will gracefully greet spring. Thriving in moist or wet soil, it also grows well along stream banks and beside ponds. Plant it on stream banks to help prevent erosion.

Native Wildflowers Nursery

The Trout Lily, also known as the Dog Toothed Violet or Woodland Glory, is a beautiful, flowering plant that is native to eastern North America. The green and brown spotted foliage is said to resemble the markings seen on the Brown Trout. It is a perennial, which means there is a bulb that will regrow year after year with the proper care. The plant is known for it was medicinal benefits and was used to aid in wound care and healing by Native Americans.

Trout lily are unique plants you will want to add to your garden.

They do very well in groups and prefer areas ranging from full shade to partial sun. An area that is speckled with light through large trees would be perfect for this flowering beauty. This plant is an excellent choice if you are in need of a ground covering plant in areas that are very shady, or if you have low light areas that you would like to add a great pop of color to in the spring. One of the best features of this beauty is that it is usually flowering before most other perennials and even when it is not in its full spring bloom, during the summer and fall seasons, the mottled leaves of this plant are stunning in their own right. It only requires light to moderate amounts of water and prefers drier soil during dormancy. When spring arrives, these little treasures seem to pop up almost overnight and make their presence known.

Trout Lily grow best in USDA zones 3-9.

The downward facing, bell-shaped blooms can be cut and brought indoors for use in a vase or an arrangement. These magnificent plants, when left undisturbed, will form clusters or colonies on their own and are sure to make a fabulous prospect to your garden with its showy blooms of yellow or white in early spring.

Trout Lily, A Beautiful Woodland Plant

Often called yellow dogtooth violet, or Adder’s tongue, the trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is a beautiful, native, woodland plant.

Consider a spring hike at Raccoon Creek State Park’s Wildflower Reserve in Hanover Township to spy this beauty. With 7,572 acres, the park offers hiking trails that meander up and down hillsides, and along Traverse Stream.

The trail, starting at the Wildflower Reserve, is an excellent place to see many beautiful wildflowers. Dedicated Master Gardener volunteers label specimens all along the trail. Focusing on environmental education as well as fun, you can get more information at the Wildflower Reserve Interpretive Center, 724-899-3611.

Preferring moist, shaded habitats, the trout lily’s leaves are a mottled-brownish maroon, said to resemble the brook trout, hence its common name. Blooming from March through May, its solitary, nodding, yellow flower is often found in clumps as it colonizes.

The flowers are hermaphrodite, meaning each bloom has both male and female parts for pollination and seed production, though only 10 percent of pollinated flowers produce seeds, according to Peter Bernhardt of the University of Chicago. The trout lily has a symbiotic relationship with ants, which carry seeds away, eating the fleshy attachment, and helping to spread the lilies’ range. This symbiotic relationship is called myrmecochory.

Bernhardt states many of the plants reproduce asexually when a “dropper,” a tubular fleshy stem growing out of a corm, dips to the ground. It is buried, a new corm grows out of the tip and when the parent corm dies a new plant is born. This is why some colonies of trout lilies are more than 300 years old, claims Sarah Coulber of the Canada Wildlife Federation.

Seeds need to be planted fresh within six to eight weeks after flowering. According to Auburn University, it can take up to seven years to grow a mature plant from seed.

Plants can be propagated by root division as well. You must mark the spot of the plant, as the leaves disappear. Then dig them up in late summer. The name dogtooth is said to refer to the white, tooth shape of the underground bulbs. Set the divisions about 3-inches deep and mulch well.

Divide only if you have a large colony of plants, and never dig plants in the wild.

It is best to buy plants propagated from commercial nurseries. Try to ensure that they have not gathered their specimens from the wild.

There are also rare pink flowers (Erythronium propullans) found in Minnesota and another, white with a lavender tint (Erythronium albidum), referred to as the white fawn lily. The yellow dogtooth violet is common here in western Pennsylvania.

This article was written by Martha Murdock who is a Master Gardener with Penn State Extension – Beaver County.

Tough, Low-Maintenance Beauty

  • Pale yellow, lily-shaped flowers
  • Thrives in variety of soils
  • Good companion around roses and shrubs
  • Naturalizes well
  • Deer tend to avoid
A delightful spring-blooming perennial to plant around roses and shrubs, in shade or woodland gardens, in naturalized areas, and under deciduous trees. Also called a Trout Lily, the Dog's Tooth Violet produces up to 10, pale yellow, lily-shaped flowers per stalk. The elegant flowers bloom atop the green, mottled, lancelike foliage. Virtually disease free, Dog's Tooth Violet thrives in chalk, clay, loam or sand. Just don't let the soil dry out. It's an all-around, easy-to-grow and easy-to-love plant. Grows 10-14 in. tall and naturalizes well. Deer tend to avoid. Plant in part shade. Zones 4-9.

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Product Details

Product Details

  • Botanical Name: Erythronium 'Pagoda'
  • Height: 10-14 inches
  • Spacing: 4-5 inches
  • Depth: 4-6" deep
  • Spread: 12-14 inches
  • Light Required: Partial Shade
  • Color: Soft yellow with reddish-brown centers.
  • Size: No. 1 Bulb
  • Blooms: Mid Spring, Late Spring
  • Zone: 4-9
  • Form: Perennial
  • Flower Form: Pendulous lily-shaped reflexes flowers on thin but sturdy stems. Spikes of up to 10 blooms are borne as singles, or in 2's or 3's.
  • Soil Requirements: Clay Soil, Loamy Soil, Sandy Soil
  • Growth Rate: Medium
  • Foliage: Thick, glossy lance-shaped, bright green.

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Question & Answers

Question & Answers

Most times, orders having items with different shipping schedules are held in full until the entire order is ready to ship based on your grow zone.

Plants will be shipped at the proper planting time for your area of the country using the shipping timeframes outlined below. We continually monitor weather conditions for extreme hot or cold and adjust shipping schedules as needed. Due to hot weather conditions, we are unable to ship most plant items in July and August.

2020 Fall Shipping Schedule
ZONE Perennials, Bulbs & Flowers
1A-4B 9/9 - 10/30
5A & 5B 9/9 - 10/30
6A & 6B 9/9 - 10/30
7A & 7B 9/9 - 10/30
8A & 8B 9/9 - 10/30
9A-10B 9/9 - 10/30
Last Order Date All Grow Zones: Oct 26, 2020

The type of product you order or the weather in our area to yours may affect the anticipated shipping schedule, shifting earlier or later, depending.

Trees and shrubs are kept in the nursery row until full dormant for optimum stress protection.

In all cases, we choose the fastest, most efficient way to send your orders via the U.S. Postal Service or FedEx. Large orders or large items may be shipped to you in multiple packages.

Sorry, we cannot ship products to Hawaii, Alaska, APO/FPO or outside the contiguous United States. Please provide a street address as some products are unable to be delivered to Post Office boxes.

Hardy bulbs

Hardy bulbs or spring flowering bulbs require a cold period to break their dormancy and begin spring flower development.

  • Plant hardy bulbs in the fall.
  • Hardy bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, can be left in the ground to flower year after year.
  • Examples of hardy bulbs are tulips, daffodils (Narcissus species and hybrids), iris, crocus and lilies.

Hardy bulbs are quite easy to work with, require minimal care once properly planted, and come up every spring with a wonderful show of color.


Flowers Edit

A yellow trout lily produces an erect flower stalk with a nodding, bisexual flower with 6 recurved, yellow, lanceolote tepals. The 20 to 33 mm long tepals are composed of 3 petals and 3 petal-like sepals. [3] E. americanum does not flower for the first 4 to 7 years of its life. [5] [6] In any given colony, only 0.5% will have flowers. [8] [3]

Trout lilies bloom in early spring before the trees growing above them develop leaves. Blooming at this time allows them unobstructed access to sunlight and time to grow when soil nutrient levels are high. The flowers close at night. [8]

Leaves Edit

Non-flowering plants grow a single leaf whereas flowering plants grow 2 basal leaves. [9] The 8 to 23 centimeters long yellow trout lily leaves grow in the spring and range from elliptic to lanceolate leaves, the leaves may be mottled with gray to purple and have entire leaf margins. [3]

Fruit and sexual reproduction Edit

Erythronium americanum does not reproduce very effectively via sexual reproduction with only 10% of pollinated flowers developing seeds. [10] The fruit is a 12 to 15 mm long capsule that is held off the ground by the flower stalk. [3] E. americanum is a myrmecochorous plant, meaning that ants help disperse the seeds and reduce seed predation. To make the seeds more appealing to ants they have an elaiosome which is a structure that attracts ants. [11]

Bulb and asexual reproduction Edit

A trout lily grows from a 15 to 28 mm oval underground bulb. The bulb is often located in the upper 11 cm of soil although it may be as deep as 30 cm. [9] [8] The bulbs of E. americanum are buried very deeply compared to other lily family plants. The bulbs are mostly composed of storage tissue containing large amounts of energy rich starch. The bulb is covered by a papery husk which is the remains of the previous year's stalk. [12]

Trout lilies grow in colonies, some of which have been dated to be up to 300 years old. [2] [4] The individuals within a colony will often reproduce asexually via a "dropper" or from small bulbs budding off of the main bulb. A dropper is a tubular fleshy stem that grows out from a parent bulb, up toward the surface and then penetrates deep into the soil where another bulb is formed from the tip of the dropper. The stem connecting the daughter and parent bulb then dies. [10]

There are two subspecies, Erythronium americanum subsp. americanum and Erythronium americanum subsp. harperi. The americanum subspecies is a distributed more northerly and the harperi subspecies only occurs in the south, from Louisiana to Tennessee and Georgia. [13] The subspecies differ in the shape of the capsule and stigma, with E. americanum subsp. americanum having a capsule with a rounded, truncate, or short-apiculate tip and erect stigma lobes without groves. E. americanum subsp. harperi has a distinctly apiculate capsule apex and stigma lobes which are both grooved and recurved. [13]

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