This woodland-loving plant is worth waiting and watching for as spring arrives.
When I was a child, I remember seeing huge swathes of trout lilies every spring in the deciduous woodlands that bordered the Credit River in what has become Mississauga, Ontario. And mimicking these forest conditions is key if you want to grow them in your own garden: Trout lilies require a part- to full shade location in moist, humus-rich soil that has been heavily amended with compost, shredded leaves or leaf mould. Trout lilies grow from small corms (modified plant stems) that are planted six centimetres deep and 10 centimetres apart in autumn. In early spring, two shiny green leaves mottled with brown and purple (they resemble lake trout – hence the common name) give rise to a single nodding flower with golden reflexed “petals” (perianth segments) that are shaded with a pale purple on the outside. Left undisturbed in optimum growing conditions, trout lily corms produce underground stolons that enable plants to slowly spread over large areas. Spring ephemerals, trout lilies go dormant after flowering, so we recommend growing them among delicate maidenhair ferns that are slow to emerge in spring. Plants culled from the wild don’t transplant well, so ensure that the corms you purchase are grown in a nursery setting.
“This is one of the most elegant of our native Lilies. It blossoms early, and we hail it with gladness when it brightens us with a graceful golden bell at the edge of the dark forest.” —Catherine Parr Traill (1802-99), Studies of Plant Life in Canada (1885)