Speaking of Nature: Hidden gem — The trout lily

Speaking of Nature: Hidden gem — The trout lily


It was the Friday of my spring break week and the weather had finally improved. The previous weekend had been beautiful with record-setting high temperatures, but I had been fortunate enough to pick up a case of strep throat from one of my students just before we left school and I had been sidelined as a result. The little slice of June that visited us was quickly replaced by more typical April weather and it wasn’t for almost another week that the nice weather returned, but I was finally ready for it.

I woke up at about 8 a.m. (a real luxury for me) and wandered out into the kitchen. Coffee was made and a slice of toast with some peanut butter was prepared and then I sat down at the little desk by my kitchen window where I keep my journal. The temperature was only 48 degrees, but the sun in the cloudless blue sky promised that things would improve. So, I watched the birds for a while, then headed over to the couch and read my latest copy of Living Bird while I waited for it to warm up a little.

By 10 a.m. the temperature had risen to 58 degrees and that, I thought, was going to be perfect. So, I donned my field clothes, filled a Ziplock bag with birdseed, grabbed my camera and headed down the hill. This was my first visit to the Thinking Chair this year and I was very curious as to what I would find. Along the way I encountered plenty of evidence that we had endured a major snow event that had done a lot of damage, but the conditions were also surprisingly dry. At that point in the month we had only had 1.25 inches of rain and the wet meadow just wasn’t that wet at all. Thus, I arrived at the Thinking Chair with dry feet.

I placed a handful of seed on the small feeding platform that I had installed and almost before I got settled in I saw a bird in the underbrush. I was a little surprised to discover that it was a song sparrow, rather than a chickadee, but surprise was replaced with joy when the little bird went straight to the feeder. It was very clear to me that this was a bird that knew the routine. This bird had disappeared for the winter, but had returned with a full understanding that I was “friendly” and that food was available.

The chickadees did finally arrive and in very short order they were landing on my head, but it also became very clear that it was still only April. There were a few birds around, but not a great deal of activity and after about an hour I found myself getting a little bored. So I got up, turned left and headed down into the woods. The dry conditions were evident as I walked along the stream that flows out of the meadow. The woods were very quiet and it was evident that there wouldn’t be much in the way of birdwatching at that point, so I turned my attention to the forest floor.

Were there any wildflowers blooming among the leaves? I noticed the gorgeous green leaves of Canada mayflowers, but there was no evidence of any flowers at that point. In fact, there just wasn’t a great deal of green on the forest floor at all, but I decided to press on. Surely, I thought, that burst of remarkably warm weather must have encouraged something to grow and only a few steps later I was rewarded for my persistence.

In a slightly damp depression, growing among the dead leaves of the previous summer, I spotted the long, dappled leaves of trout lily plants. And then, growing right next to the stump of a small tree that had died many years ago, I found one of the most perfect examples of the trout lily’s flower that I have seen in many years. Despite the fact that the flower “nods” toward the ground, this particular specimen could not have been better situated for the conditions at the time.

The yellow petals of the flower had curled back on themselves in a very symmetrical fashion. Three of the six petals had curled extensively, while the other three had curled only marginally. This exposed the pistil and stamens beautifully and the six stamens were noticeably covered with pollen grains that were a dark, rusty orange. The plant was pointing in a direction that allowed the morning’s ample sunlight to illuminate the flower in a perfect way and the plant’s juxtaposition with the dead stump made for a very attractive composition. All I had to do was lie down on the ground and rest my camera on the forest floor so that I could capture the image.

There were a few other trout lilies that were blooming, but none of them had the same qualities as the one in today’s photo. Still, it was a thrill to find each one of them. I was also reminded of how small they really are. Each one could have fit inside a Ping-Pong ball and the only reason they stood out was because they were the only hints of any color other than the brown of the dead leaves; little hidden treasures just waiting to be found.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 25 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.