For fly fishermen, the Brook Trout, native to Smoky Mountain streams, is a worthy goal. Not because it is particularly large- it isn’t – but because of its coloration and the difficulty of enticing the fish to grab one’s minute fabrication of feathers and twine which supposedly resembles a drowned or floundering insect. The Cherokee Indians had a natural calendar triggered by specific wildflower blooming which told them it was time to seek out the little fish hiding near rocks and stumps. As the legend goes, the Trout Lilly (Erythronium americanum) awoke their fishing instincts and during our month of March, all available Cherokee congregated in streams and brooks focused on a fishy objective.
How did the Trout Lilly become associated with Brook Trout? If you look closely at a Brook Trout, you will notice a swirling pattern of green, yellow, and brown and immersed in water, as fish tend to be, you can imagine a somewhat similarity to the leaf of the Trout Lilly. Here’s the Brook Trout.
Mr. Trout (above) and Miss Lilly (below).
Like I said, with some imagination and the distorting effect of swirling water, you can almost discern some fleeting resemblance. Both are majestic and both are repeating patterns of green, gold, and brown. Notice the orange fin is the same color as the flower stamens. I see it! The flower is a landlocked fish or vice-versa.
Erythronium is a community builder. Never will you see just one, and I have seen thousands blooming at the same time on a flat above the Chattahoochee River. Botanists have estimated some shady fields of Trout Lilly to be over 300 years old as they propagate vegetatively with rhizomes creeping from bulblet to bulblet. Only 10% of Trout Lillies produce seeds, and a secret symbiotic relationship exists between lilies and ants who harvest the seeds and help with disbursement. The flower is six petalled and yellow in this species although there is a white variety that is rarely encountered in the Southeast.
Trout Lilly like moisture and are never far from flowing water which adds to the Brook Trout analogy. I can never look at a Trout Lilly without thinking of a Native American family headed to the creek with a woven basket in hand and intent on a smoked trout dinner that evening. Here is one last look at the fascinating flower known as the Trout Lilly and sometimes called a Dog-Tooth Violet, but that’s another story.
Perhaps this is a slightly different variety as the stamen are brown versus orange in the previous example. In March, Trout Lilly are common along Cades Cove waterways. In April, only a fleeting few remain. In the background is a fuzzy Squirrel Corn wildflower – a future subject.