Taken together, early spring wildflowers are often called ephemerals. This refers to their short life cycles, but strictly speaking means flowers that die back completely leaving no trace of their presence above ground. It’s a trait that allows them to be very successful, emerging after the most harsh winters, before bud break when the trees hog most of the sunlight.
Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is a true ephemeral; its leaves quickly break down and disappear after the flowers wither. It is the leaves that give this flower its common name; the mottling resembles the fish.
Like many early widlflowers, trout lily closes completely when it’s cold, overcast or rainy. As an evolutionary strategy I think it works. Flowers that lose petals to wind and weather stand a lower chance of being pollinated versus those that keep their petals. Flower structures and petals help guide pollinators to them.
Pollination is especially important to trout lily because so few of the pollinated flowers actually seed – approximately 10% only which is a pretty small percentage. To make matters worse, it takes 7 years for the flowers to mature and none bloom during that time. Despite those odds, some botanists believe that large, undisturbed groves of trout lily to be 300 years old.
Pretty amazing for a ubiquitous little wildflower that hardly shows its face for more than a few weeks a year.