The Trout Lilies of Grant Park

Posted by on May 4, 2017 in neighborhood | 2 Comments
The Trout Lilies of Grant Park

The trillium are rapidly expanding their white blooms in the beech and maple woods of Grant Park, especially to the south, along the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, but along the Seven Bridges Trail the trout lilies are still in command: thousands of little bursts of yellow breaking out of the decaying leaves of autumns past. They are at their peak, and soon will begin to fade.

The trout lily is one of the most striking early spring wildflowers in southeast Wisconsin. It gets its name from its mottled leaves, which resemble the markings of a brook trout.

When I see them for the first time along the slopes in Grant Park, they become a beautiful sign of hope that the last winter storms have finally passed, and spring–which often comes in fits and starts here–has the upper hand.

But beyond their beauty, and the hope they bring, there is also mystery and wonder. Trout lilies form colonies that can live a very long time, possibly several hundred years, making them as old as the trees around them.

And there is more. They have made an evolutionary deal with ants: the ants take the seeds, eat a nutritious (well, to ants anyway) attachment, and then deposit the “waste” seeds, which then can grow into new members of the trout lily colony.

In another week or so, once the spring flowers are gone, the trout lilies of Grant Park will focus their energies on growing their underground root network and growing shoots for the next year, when once again they will provide hope that another winter has thrown its last storm our way.


Photos: trout lilies at Grant Park; top photo May 6, 2016; bottom photo April 22, 2012; background May 3, 2016.
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  1. Michael Arloski
    May 6, 2017

    Lovely David, thanks!

    I lived for 11 years in Oxford, Ohio – down in the S.W. corner of the state. There, biology professor “Doc” Heffner, bought a piece of property composed of steep hillsides that dropped into a creek valley. It had been used to run hogs and the ground was rooted down to almost bare earth in most places. Over the years his reclamation work yielded astonishing results. Go there today and it’s chocked with wildflowers and botanical abundance. One of his tactics was to go out into the nearby mature forests and just gather up large garbage bags full of forest floor litter – leaves and everything with it. He’d then dump the bags over the hillsides in what became the amazing nature preserve – Silvoor Lane. I remember one spot where he did this just over the hill below his house. Every spring it was covered with glorious yellow Trout Lilly!

    • David Backes
      May 6, 2017

      What a wonderful success story! Thanks for sharing it!


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