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  • Writer's pictureLucy

Trout-lily and Spicebush: yellow in the early spring woods

A couple weeks ago, I started to notice that the trout-lily leaves were coming up...another sign of early spring in the woods!

They get their name because the pattern on the leaves looks a bit like a trout.

About a week ago, I started to see buds...and then my first flower.

If you look at the plants with flowers, you see they always have two leaves. The trout-lily (Erythronium americanum) flower is only produced by plants that are at least 3 to 8 years-old. Please treasure these older plants. You know you have found an older colony of plants when there are lots of plants with with flowers.

In some areas, the forest floor can be covered by the single leaves of a young plants. The trout-lily leaves and flowers are short lived. By June (or even May) there is rarely a trace of this plant. It sprouts in the early spring before the trees have leaves. It gathers its energy from the sun, while the forest floor is full of sun and dies back. Only a portion of the plants flower each year and make seeds. The mature plant stores it's energy in a bulb underground until next spring.  For an amazing discussion of trout-lily and many other wildflowers see Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast by Carol Gracie.

Spicebush is the other wonderful bright yellow we find in the woods, especially in wet areas. It now in full bloom in central CT.

The flowers are small and sparsely spaced. Like many native plants, spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and trout-lily flowers are more delicate and subtle than the bright spring yellow in our yards from forsythia and daffodils. These non-natives usually start to bloom before the spicebush.

In some areas, the understory now has a yellow haze from all the spicebush blooming. Most of the bright green in the photo above are the wetland plant, skunk cabbage.

The spicebush swallowtail lays it's eggs on spicebush. The caterpillar has a big eye spot on their backside to try ward off predators. For more information about this cool creature, click here for the source website for this photo (taken by Jerry F Butler).

Nature Nurture:

If you take the time to be present to the wonders of sping it is truely a gift. Not surprisingly, time in nature has been shown have a powerful ability to reduce stress. I know I am more resilient and able to be there for others when I take care of myself by spending relaxed time in nature.

In these challenging times, deepening your connection to nature can give you a boost. Noticing the changes as spring unfolds and letting yourself feel the wonder is important medicine. Below are a sequence of photos of a single trout-lily leaf after it emerged from the ground.

Using all your senses to appreciate spring can bring you present to the gifts of spring. You can feel the difference between spicebush and another shrub, because the

branches are bumpy (see photo). The twigs and leaves have a nice, spicy smell and can be steeped in hot water to make a tasty tea. The tea can be concentrated and used for making cookies. These are favorite treats for our after-school programs. As always before ingesting wild edibles, make sure you have positively identified them and please only harvest where the plant is abundant and not all from a single plant.

Trout-lily leaves can be picked in small quantities and added as a colorful and spicy green to a salad or simply savored. Please remember only to pick only the small single leaves from places they are very abundant.

Below are a few more beautiful photos of trout-lilies taken by my friend Sonya Wulff. Let yourself soak in the wonder and beauty.

If you keep your eyes and ears open, it is amazing what you can discover!

Share what you notice with a family member, friend or neighbor.

As spring progresses, keep an eye out for the white "worms" like the one in the photo below. Perhaps you can figure out where they come from.

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