When the trout lilies bloom in Grant Park, it is time to celebrate. And as soon as I crossed over the first bridge of the famous Seven Bridges Trail last weekend, I knew the spring party had begun.
They always bloom first along the south-facing slopes of the ravine winding through the lower part of the trail:
But once conditions are right on the upper part of the trail, they spread across the entire beech-maple woods. They decorate the forest floor in bright yellow:
The time of the trout lilies puts everyone in a festive mood. We sometimes get snowstorms in April, so each little sign of spring is a topic of joyful conversation. But when the trout lilies take over the woods of Grant Park, that’s it. Goodbye, winter. Adios. Here’s your hat, there’s the door.
A plant of mystery and wonder
The trout lily gets its name from its mottled leaves, which resemble the markings of a brook trout. (And evidently they received this name from John Burroughs, Sigurd Olson’s favorite naturalist. He had a complete collection of Burroughs’ works, and was delighted when in 1974 he received the Burroughs Medal, the highest award in nature writing.)
Beyond the beauty of trout lilies, 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.
Most of the time, though, they propagate vegetatively, sending out an underground runner in the spring that produces a new plant at its end.
The vast majority of the trout lilies in Grant Park are yellow, but there are several small patches of white ones, too:
Once the spring flowers are gone, trout lilies 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 spring has established a firm foothold.
This post belongs to the blue portion of the singing wilderness spiritual map.