Dog Tooth Violet is Erythronium
If you have shade, you'll love Dogtooth violets.
Erythroniums have several vivid names including Fawn Lily, Trout Lily, Tooth Violet and Adder’s Tongue. There are 20 species of these sweet, spring-flowering bulbs.  They form clumps that grow to a maximum height of 4-8 inches.

The bulbs look like a 2-inch long tooth (dogtooth) and the stems that shoot up in the spring hold pendants of flowers. Flower colors include lavender, pink, yellow and cream.

Native to forests, separate species are identified as growing east and west of the Rocky Mountains. East of the Rockies, we can grow White Fawn Lily (White Trout Lily); Yellow Dogtooth Violet (Yellow Adder’s Tongue); Gray Dwarf Trout Lily; Yellow Trout Lily; and Dimpled Trout Lily.

The Trout Lily name comes from the brown spots on the leaves, said to resemble brook trout spots. 

 Trout Lily Root and Leaf from Hiker's Notebook

Erythroniums that grow west of the Rockies include: Avalanche, Glacier, Klamath, Sierra and Tuolumne.

Like their cousins the tulips and hyacinths, Erythroniums bloom in the spring and are dormant underground in the summer. Most commonly found in woods and mountain meadows, they prefer compost-rich, well-drained soil.

Erythronium americanum is found across the eastern U.S. and west to MO, and OK. Prairie dogtooth violet, E. mesochoreum, also called white dogtooth violet, is found in dry places and glades from TX to NE. 

Under favorable conditions, Erythroniums will create dense colonies, spreading themselves by bulb, stolons, and seed.

The seeds may germinate on the ground after they fall but not for several months, so to multiply them in your garden, plan to harvest and plant them yourself.  Every two years, dig and divide the bulb clusters and relocate them around the garden under trees or shrubs.

Dogtooth bulbs Scottish Rock Garden Club

Steve Vinisky, owner of Cherry Creek Daffodils ( said that Erythronium bulbs have a tendency to move down in the soil.

Vinisky said, “In the old days, the British dug an 8-inch deep hole measuring 12 by 12 inches and put a roof slate on the bottom of the hole where they planted the bulbs. They put 6-inches of amended soil on top of the slate, put the bulbs in and filled the hole with soil. The roofing slate prevented the bulbs from moving too far down to bloom.”

Erythroniums do better in the ground than in containers. Vinisky said they will bloom, but that pot planted bulbs get too much heat and not enough drainage or moisture.

“The best place to plant them,” Vinisky said, “is in full shade or where they will get a few hours of eastern sun. The main problem gardeners have with them is that slugs love to eat them.”

Tucking them into a dry part of a Hosta bed can work though Erythroniums prefer less moisture than Hostas. Moist soil in the spring is critical. If there is no rain, water an inch a week during their growing season. Dry soil in the summer and fall is best.

After they bloom, leave the foliage (leaves and stems) in place rather than cutting them off. The leaves absorb sunlight, making food to strengthen the bulbs for next year’s flowers

Plant the bulbs pointy side up, 5-inches deep in well-worked soil. Fertilize them in late winter with one-quarter of the strength recommended.

To be successful with a fall planting of Erythronium bulbs, they should be as fresh and well-cared for as possible. Vinisky said that the large bulb houses purchase their bulbs from Holland and while that works well for tulips, Erythronium and other tiny ephemeral bulbs can dry out too much before they are shipped.

With fingers crosses, I planted Erythronium revolution White Beauty x hybrid Pioneer Strain.

Vinisky reassured me, saying, “If you can meet all of their requirements, they are easy to grow”.



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