Fish or flower?

A trout lily on Baker Mountain
A trout lily on Baker Mountain

Early-spring flowers are blooming on Baker Mountain, the small peak just a few miles from our office in Saranac Lake. My favorite is trout lily, a yellow flower that grows on a longish stalk.

Ruth Schottmann, a wildflower expert and the author of Trailside Notes (Adirondack Mountain Club, $12.95), tells me that the naturalist John Burroughs gave the flower its name. The plant’s mottled leaves reminded him of trout.

The trout lily is one of Ruth’s favorite flowers, too. “I like it particularly on a sunny day, when the petals will fold back and face the sun,” she said. “It is as if they were looking at the sun.”

She said many trout lilies do not flower, but that doesn’t mean they don’t reproduce. A plant’s corm–the fleshy underground part–may send up a white shoot that arches and reenters the ground to give rise to a new plant. This method of reproduction is a reason why trout lilies are often found in clumps.

Trout lilies are among the first to bloom in the deciduous forests of the Adirondacks. The flowers may come out as early as mid-April and last until mid-May, when the forest canopy returns and shuts out the sunlight.

Ruth will be giving a slideshow talk on spring wildflowers at the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks Information Center near Lake Placid on Saturday, May 16, starting at 8 p.m.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation offers a concise natural history of the trout lily.

The plant's mottled leaf reminded John Burroughs of a trout.
The plant’s mottled leaves reminded John Burroughs of trout. Photos by Phil Brown.

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. richard lovrich says

    Trout lilly and may apple ring our home. Both so beautiful, worth bending down to discover.

  2. Douglas Arnold says


    Thanks for the blog. A biologist friend of mine convinced me that the leaves, if picked early are edible. I have tried them many times while on the trail to the High Falls on the Oswegotchie. The young leaves are quite tasty.

    I did notice, if picked later they left a strong onion after taste that lasted for hours.

    I have not tried cooking the leave, which I am told relieves the bitterness from the older leaves. Nor have I tried the root. I’d wager that both will taste great.

    Searching the web I found some fun lore.

    “This plant has been documented by ethnobotanists to have had the following uses (from Native American Ethnobotany; Moerman, Daniel E.):

    1)The Cherokee crushed warm leaves and poured the juice over wounds that wouldn’t heal.

    2)The Cherokee used an infusion of the root as a febriuge- to reduce fever.

    3)The Cherokee also used the plant in a compound to help with fainting. (I assume to help stop fainting, but one never knows.)

    4)The Iroquois were said to have eaten the raw plants (not the roots) to prevent conception.

    5)The Iroquois made a poultice of the smashed roots to treat swellings and for removing slivers.”

    “The small bulb (corm) at the bottom of the plant is edible raw. It has a very fresh taste, sort of like cucumber.”

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