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The Elusive Dogtooth Violet

Written by Nola McKey.

Dogtooth violet (Erythronium albidum), photographed near Whitehouse in Smith County. (Photo courtesy Rosanna Salmon)

While dogtooth violets aren’t rare in Texas, they’re not commonly seen or reported, either. “The delicate, lily-like blooms are hard to spot from the road,” explains botanist Michael Eason, who coordinates collecting for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s seed bank. “In addition,” he says, “the plants are small—only six to 12 inches tall—and typically flower in early spring and disappear within about two months of emergence.”

Eason notes that dogtooth violet (Erythronium spp.) is also called “trout lily” or “fawn lily” because of the spots that appear on its leaves; the common name “dogtooth” probably refers to a European relative or the shape of the bulb.

“There are three species of dogtooth violet in Texas: two white-flowered species and one yellow,” he adds. “The species mentioned in the April 2011 wildflower story (Erythronium albidum) has white flowers. We have reports from the 1930s of sightings of it near Corsicana and in Kaufman County, and we’d like to find out if it still grows in that area. However, we would be happy to have reports of all three species.”

Eason offers a few tips for dogwood violet detectives:

  • Look for it in the forested areas of East Texas, especially in Navarro, Ellis, Dallas, Kaufman, Hunt, Hill, and surrounding counties. It seems to be concentrated here, but collections have also been made in other areas of the state, such as Lampasas County.
  • It’s typically found in sandy soil, but it has also been collected in relic Blackland Prairie sites.
  • It’s often found near creeks or drainages, along the slopes.

“No matter which species you find,” he says, “dogtooth violet usually occurs in colonies, so when you do find it, it’s usually a treat. The populations I’ve seen have typically been several hundred feet in area. The plants usually carpet the ground with their spotted leaves and blooms, and since dogwood violet is one of the few plants that flower this early, it makes a nice contrast to the leaf-covered ground.”

Think you’ve found an example of this elusive wildflower? Eason would appreciate an e-mail (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). He’s also available to answer wildflower-identification questions. For more information about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Seed Bank Project, see “The Stories We Don’t Tell” in the November 2009 issue or the Web Extra on Millennium Seed Bank.


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