Woodland Plants: Erythronium dens canis

Erythronium dens canis (dog's tooth violet)

This little gem – Erythronium dens canis – grows wild in favoured places across Europe. You might come across them in dappled shade on the edge of UK woods, pushing their way up through leaf litter, but there is probably more chance of finding them in a major garden or a spring plant and bulb catalogue.

Common names include dog’s tooth violet and trout lily. If you were wondering, dog’s tooth refers to the shape of the bulbs (which should be planted pointy side up) and trout to the beautiful, mottled foliage. The leaves look like a trendy, new, mint flavoured chocolate might – thin, of course, to justify the price tag in that inverse way we’ve come to expect; wavy to give the research and development team something to think about; and with a weird ingredient for extra credibility, such as cardamom or Kaffir lime leaves or green tea. 

The flowers (the real ones, that is, not some chocolate fantasy) have a windswept look, balanced on outstretched stems as if they’re trying to escape their roots.

These pictures may or may not show the same cultivar – the one on the left was labelled Erythronium dens canis ‘Old Aberdeen’, but the others were unlabelled. The cultivar is characterised by rich chocolatey markings on the leaves, deep pink petals and inky blue anthers.

I found them all growing in humus-rich soil yesterday at the RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate, Yorkshire. The woodland walk was lovely, with primroses, daffodils and many other carpeting bulbs in bloom, so well worth a visit if you get half a chance.

I’m linking to Cee’s Flower of The Day.

43 Replies to “Woodland Plants: Erythronium dens canis”

  1. They are a beautiful flower. I have tried growing the yellow one ‘ pagoda ‘ with little success. Perhaps I planted them upside down!

    1. It seems more natural to plant them pointed side down somehow, doesn’t it? I’ve read that seed grown ones look like a single blade of grass when they first germinate – I can imagine quite a lot being weeded out if that’s the case!

  2. I just love these and had my eyes open for them last weekend on a walk in the woods. The ones I knew growing up had a white flower and grew in a great swath under an oak tree at the edge of our woods.

  3. I love the form! I do wish you were in charge of naming things; neither “dog” nor “trout” seems adequate to me. “Chocolate mint” nails it.

    1. Very true! I saw a patch of pretty little pink ones in a Welsh garden at the weekend (Ethronium revolutum). They were much more ethereal – like fairies’ lilies.

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