Written by: Rome Marinelli, Horticulturalist at The Inn at Honey Run
Congratulations, I have successfully taught you how to speak like Daffy Duck. But seriously, you read that title correctly. Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) is a beautiful yellow flower that can be seen sporting anthers that range in color from bright yellow to brick red (and any variation in between), which has many plant scientists perplexed and wondering why.
E. Americanum is a mesmerizing spring ephemeral measuring up to 6” tall. It can be found along the forest floor of the eastern half of the US as well as eastern Canada. This plant takes advantage of the available sunlight early in the Spring before the tree canopy leafs out and leaves them shaded in the summer. E. americanum has 1 or 2 basal leaves with a trout-like pattern and a single nodding yellow flower which, depending, may have bright yellow anthers or brick red anthers (or any variation in between).
Anthers are the part of the plant that holds the pollen grains (sperm) and keeps it safe until the plant is mature and ready to reproduce. To my delight, I have found Yellow Trout Lily growing and now blooming on our property along the Open Air Art Museum trail. I have also photographed this anther phenomenon in lilies just yards away from one another. Now I’ve joined the many in wondering what this significance is.
Until now, the ecological significance of the anther color variation has not been studied in much detail. Researchers are hoping to be able to explain the variation as some have now expanded to utilize Citizen Science projects – projects that utilize citizens and their observations for data collection. For a while it was thought that the color variation in E. americanum anthers had to do with pollinator and/or herbivore attraction while some believe the two are separate species. There are many more hypotheses that excite me, but until we get the needed data, we will be left in a state of blissful curiosity, admiring this plant for what it is – a marvel.