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Published In: Species Plantarum 1: 305. 1753. (1 May 1753) (Sp. Pl.) Name publication detailView in BotanicusView in Biodiversity Heritage Library

Project Name Data (Last Modified On 7/9/2009)
Acceptance : Accepted
Project Data     (Last Modified On 7/22/2009)


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7. Erythronium L. (dogtooth violet)

(Mathew, 1992)

Plants perennial, with deep-seated, bulblike corms, lacking the odor of onion or garlic. Aerial stems 10–20 cm long, unbranched, erect or ascending, glabrous. Leaves 2 (1 in sterile plants), alternate or subopposite, the leaf blades spreading from near the middle of the partially subterranean aerial stems and thus appearing basal, the bases tapering into a sheath, 5–20 cm long, glabrous, narrowly to broadly lanceolate, oblanceolate, or elliptic, flat or somewhat folded longitudinally, sometimes mottled with brown. Flowers single at the tip of the aerial stem, not replaced by bulblets. Perianth 15–50 mm long, broadly bell-shaped, arched outward, or recurved from below the middle, the sepals and petals free, lanceolate. Stamens 6, free. Style 1, somewhat thickened near the tip, the stigma 1 and 3-lobed or stigmas 3. Ovary superior, with 3 locules, each with 8–20 ovules. Fruits 10–25 mm long, ellipsoid to obovoid, somewhat 3-angled capsules. Twenty-five to 28 species, North America, Europe, Asia.

Erythronium is one of several genera of spring-flowering woodland herbs whose seeds have white, oily appendages known as elaiosomes and are distributed by ants. The species also reproduce vegetatively by three different means. The bulblike corms can produce offsets. However, in most species 1 to several white, fleshy stolons are produced from the corms that are horizontal or arched and produce a new corm at the tip. These stolons are usually produced by nonflowering plants. The yellow-flowered species usually produce 2–5 stolons per corm, whereas they are most commonly single in E. albidum and usually absent in E. mesochoreum. In many species, the corms also can produce vertical structures known as “droppers” that are similar to the stolons and produce a new corm at the tip. These downward-growing structures are generally produced by young, nonflowering plants, and presumably account for the relatively deep-seated corms of most mature individuals. As noted below, the mode of vegetative reproduction is a good character for discriminating between some closely related species but unfortunately requires excavation of whole plants.

Some of the floral features useful for identification of species in this genus are difficult to observe in pressed specimens, and determinations from fresh material are easier than attempts to diagnose dried flowers.

The leaves and corms of various Erythronium species purportedly have been cooked and eaten. However, the bulbs have also been reported to possess emetic properties. Some species of trout lilies are cultivated as ornamentals. The genus is thus subject to depredations by unscrupulous “diggers,” who deal commercially in large quantities of wild-collected plants. Ethical nurseries, however, are selling materials propagated primarily by vegetative reproduction of cultivated clones.


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1 Perianth white, sometimes slightly tinged with pink, purple, blue, or green; leaves glaucous on the undersurface (2)
+ Perianth yellow, sometimes tinged with orange, brown, or green; leaves not glaucous on the undersurface (3)
2 (1) Leaf blades 1.3–4.0 cm wide, lanceolate to narrowly ovate or elliptic, flat, usually somewhat mottled; perianth strongly reflexed; aerial stem erect or ascending at fruiting, the fruit thus held off the ground 1 Erythronium albidum
+ Leaf blades 0.5–2.0 cm wide, linear-lanceolate to narrowly elliptic, somewhat folded longitudinally, not mottled; perianth broadly bell-shaped or spreading; aerial stem strongly arched or nodding at fruiting, the fruit thus positioned on the ground 3 Erythronium mesochoreum
3 (1) Petals lacking appendages or with a pair of poorly developed, broadly triangular to rounded appendages near the base, if present these not wrapped around the filament of the opposing stamen; fruits broadly rounded or straight across at the tips 2 Erythronium americanum
+ Petals with a pair of well-developed, triangular appendages near the base, these wrapped around the filament of the opposing stamen; fruits tapered into a beak at the tips 4 Erythronium rostratum
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