Found in moist woodlands of eastern North America, yellow trout-lilies (Erythronium americanum, Liliaceae) are one of many plants known as spring ephemerals. These plants germinate, grow, flower and reproduce in just a few weeks in early spring. Increasing day length and sun exposure in March trigger them to begin their short life cycles. By the time deciduous trees have leafed out in May, these plants have already gone to seed. During this period yellow trout-lilies can be found decorating forest floors with their mottled green-and-brown leaves and large, nodding yellow flowers.
The common name “trout” lily is thought to come from the variegated, oval-shaped leaves that superficially resemble the scales of certain trout species. This camouflage pattern may have arisen as a means to avoid herbivory by large mammals like deer.
The large, nodding yellow flowers are pollinated primarily by various wild bees. The seeds that develop grow accessory structures known as elaiosomes. These fleshy growths are rich in fats and proteins. This makes them appealing to ants who then try to drag them back to their nests. Along the way the ants unwittingly help disperse the seeds of this wildflower, encouraging its spread.