Why do my trout lilies never bloom?

Beckie Fox

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Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) in Guelph, Ont. (Photo by Ryan Hodnett, via Creative Commons)
Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) in Guelph, Ont. (Photo by Ryan Hodnett, via Creative Commons)
Yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum) in Guelph, Ont. (Photo by Ryan Hodnett, via Creative Commons)

Question from Claire in London, Ont.

I have had trout lilies growing and spreading happily under my 20-year-old magnolia tree for about 10 years. The foliage is healthy looking. When they die off, healthy ferns, hostas and Japanese forest grass fill in. My question is why do they never bloom?

I don’t fertilize. I leave the leaf litter on the bed to naturally break down over the winter. I lightly top-dress around the larger perennials with my own compost as they emerge and the lilies fade.

Beckie’s reply:

Are you referring to yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum)? In an article about trout lilies in an early issue of Garden Making, the author mentioned that they grow best where they can be left undisturbed in shady areas of woodland gardens or at the edges of ponds and streams. They also can take up to five years to flower when grown from seed. However, yours are 10 years old, so they should be old enough to flower!

We’ve read that they can be a bit fussy — they do well in conditions they like, but may be recalcitrant in less-than ideal sites. Are the ferns, hostas and Japanese forest grass growing in the same area overcrowding them?

It could also be the magnolia. Magnolias are alleopathic; they produce two lactones that discourage competition for water and nutrients.

The dog’s tooth violet (Erythronium dens-canis) likes similar conditions, but is more easygoing. It has mottled, marbled foliage, too, but blooms in white, pink and lilac.

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3 thoughts on “Why do my trout lilies never bloom?”

  1. My white trout lilies encompass the whole of my 1 acre lot….woods, lawn, gardens. These odd little plants flower only sparsely, and not at all in areas of the woods and lawn. I’ve lived here 27 years! Please tell me how to fertilize or anything. The leaf looks wonderful, and are not hindered by beetles. HELP!

  2. My understanding is that it take a number of years for the bulbs to mature to the stage of blooming. Plants with one leaf will not bloom whereas plants with two leaves do.

  3. I live down a back road next to an old river and in the spring the banks under the trees are covered in a mix of trout lilies and dog tooth violets. They do not all flower. They tend to flower in patches. I don’t know the exact reasoning but I suspect it is just their natural state.


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